Tips on Modifying Your Child Support Order
When an agreed upon or court ordered child support arrangement becomes impossible, due to a loss of income, change in marital status, or serious injury that prevents parent from working, it is possible for them to call for a change in the agreement. Either parent has the ability to petition the court for a child support modification, from either a parent looking to lower his or her payment or a parent petitioning for more financial support. Here are some tips to help you modify your child support order.
Best Practices to Modify Child Support
- Work Quickly – If a parent finds himself or herself in a situation where he or she cannot make a child support payment in full or at all, money in arrears will still be owed. Arrears are basically defined as child support payments that have not been paid (some people call this “back support” that is owed). These arrears cannot be reduced retroactively or discharged as part of a bankruptcy. Because of this, it is important to begin the modification process as soon as possible to help avoid being overrun with back child support. Child support arrears also do not stop accruing simply because you called the other spouse, it must be done with the filing of a petition for modification of child support immediately – that is the only way to reduce support if you lose your job or are unable to pay.
- Stay Informed – Parents who are involved with child support should keep themselves informed of the laws surrounding this topic for the state in which they live. Specifically, they should be well aware of what the state considers a significant enough change in order to modify the child support agreement. It is also a good idea for parents to consult an attorney in their area. Most states have a specific rule that child support will not be modified unless the child support amount should be raised or lowered by at least 10%. So, if a person currently owes $100 per month in child support, they will not be allowed to modify the support order unless the support amount should change to at least $110 per month or less than $90 per month. Trying to modify child support for an amount less than this 10% minimum in most states can sometimes force that parent to pay for the other parent’s attorney’s fees – so be careful in your approach and timing!
- Negotiate with the Other Parent – Before submitting a petition for modification of child support to the court, parents should always try to negotiate an agreed upon modification to the child support agreement. Given the financial and emotional stress going to court carries, trying to come to an agreement is usually the best option even if it isn’t the easiest. Remember that mediation can be a powerful tool. But also keep in mind that the only thing that matters to the state when it does its accounting of your payments versus what you owe is when you filed your petition for modification of child support. Negotiating with the other parent is a good first step, but do not let this go on too long or your arrears will continue to accrue until you file your petition in court!
- Document the Changes – Regardless of what the change in circumstances, whether it be a job change, layoff, injury, or pay cut, it is important for parents to make sure these financial changes are well documented. This means providing proof of losing your job, unemployment papers, an offer letter from a new employer, or a series of paychecks showing new salary or less hours over the past few weeks at least. Also, parents should know that these changes will only be considered for a child support modification after the initial child support agreement has been put into place.
- Keep Paying – Even if a parent cannot afford to pay the full amount of their child support, they should continue to pay as much as they can until the agreement has been modified. By the parent putting forth his or her best effort, it will help to show the court that he or she is trying to honor the agreement, but simply cannot because of the current financial situation. Continuing to pay will also help to reduce the amount of back child support the parent will owe down the line. The biggest problem that parents who stop paying their child support in full face is a judge getting angry. A common thing heard from judges in child support cases like this is, “I understand you aren’t working, but your child still needs to eat! You have to pay something!” The best thing you can do is attempt to pay as much as possible so that the judge can view your struggle and see that you are committed to doing the right thing.
Follow These Tips to Lower Child Support the Right Way
Modifying child support is not easy to do. There are many factors that go in to the formula for lowering your child support amount. Speaking with an experienced child support attorney is always a good option, but if this is something you cannot afford, it is imperative to get started following the above steps right away. This will help you get things back on track with the state (who does the child support accounting) and help you get back on track with your life, as you will not have to worry about whether you did things the right way. The worst thing you can do is nothing – this will guarantee an angry ex, a mad judge, and the piling up of child support arrears.