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Change in Circumstances Can Justify Reducing Your Child Support Payments

The amount of child support to be paid is generally determined by the income of the biological parents, the number of minor children involved and, in some states, the age of the child. Support laws are intended to ensure a child has the same level of financial support that he or she would have benefitted from had parents remained together. A change in circumstances after a divorce should be expected for both the parents and children involved. Many factors can justify a reduction in support payments. Usually, there must be a substantial change in circumstances from the time when the most recent support order was entered.

These are some of the circumstances and actions that may justify you, as the paying parent, to reduce the amount of support owed.

1.- Loss of income. Loss of a job or a reduction in pay may justify lower support payments. You cannot voluntarily quit a job or seek reduced hours. The layoff must be involuntary or a court will likely impute income to you reasoning that you're capable of earning a specific amount based on age or work history.

2.- Disability, health problems or incarceration. Reducing the support amount may be appropriate if you become disabled or develop health issues that impact employment or the ability to maintain your current income level. Incarceration that removes you from the workforce for a significant period would justify reducing support to a minimum level.

3.- Support owed to other children. If you become the legal parent of another child, biologically or through adoption, and owe a duty of support to that child, the amount of support you pay to a former spouse for other children may be reduced. Your legal obligation to now support more children using the same net income requires support payments to be distributed equitably among those children.

4.- Increasing parenting time. If the amount of time your child spends with you has changed significantly from when the current support order was entered, you may be entitled to a support reduction. A reduction is due because are responsible for providing food, clothing and other essentials for a greater portion of the year.

For example, if you have your child from Friday evening to Sunday evening every other week, two weeks in the summer and for another 14 days during the year, that accounts for 22% of the time. Change that to Thursday evening to Sunday evening, 40 days in the summer and 28 days spread out during vacations and school breaks and you become responsible for your child for 40% of the year.

Similarly, an outright custody change will justify support reduction. Children, as they get older, may want to change their living arrangements and the parent with whom they reside most of the time. If the change is approved, support must be recalculated.

5.- Providing health insurance. Most support orders require parents to contribute to the cost of a child's health insurance. Covering a child with your health care policy may result in lower support payments if the other parent has been providing coverage.

6.- Reducing daycare costs. As with health insurance, each parent is usually responsible for paying a share of daycare costs based on their percentage of net income. If daycare costs $300 a month and you're paying 70%, or $210, finding similar daycare for $200 would reduce your obligation to $140.

7.- Increase in former spouse's income. If a former spouse finds employment with substantially higher pay, a support reduction may be justified. Assuming your pay remains the same, the other parent would now have a greater share of overall net income and would be responsible for covering a greater share of the total support obligation.

However, increased combined net income also increases the basic child support obligation to be divided between the parents. Some calculation and review of state guidelines will be required to determine if paying a smaller share of a higher support obligation will result in lower payments.

If your former spouse suddenly receives substantial income through inheritance, lottery winnings or another source, this sudden wealth may justify deviating from the basic support obligation and reducing your support amount. Similarly, if the custodial parent remarries or has another adult living in and financially contributing to the household, a downward deviation might be justified depending on the specific circumstances.

8.- Prove the other parent is underemployed. If you can show that your former spouse has a history or the capability of earning greater income, a court may impute a higher income level for calculating support. As with an actual increase in income, paying a smaller share of a support obligation based on a higher combined income amount may not make a significant difference. However, reducing your percentage of the total support obligation would also reduce your share of contributions for health insurance and daycare.

How to Seek a Reduction

If you have a legitimate change in circumstances that justify a support reduction, it is imperative to act quickly. The amount does not change until approved by a court, and support orders are not retroactive. The most common method to seek a reduction is to file a Motion to Modify Support in court.

Before filing a motion, you might save time and money by seeking a reduction through negotiation or mediation with the other parent. If an agreement is reached, an agreed order can be presented to a judge for approval.

If litigation is required, the parent seeking the support reduction has the burden to provide sufficient proof that a reduction is justified. This may include providing a court with past and current pay stubs, medical reports, layoff notices, birth certificates for newly-born children, unemployment papers, vocational rehab records or other documents that show proof of a substantial change in financial circumstances.

A periodic review of your support obligation with a family law attorney is prudent. An attorney can review current circumstances and help determine if seeking a reduction is practical. If paying the current amount becomes impossible, a wise course of action is to pay as much as you can while considering or pursuing a modification action.

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