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Five Facts About Modifying a Child Support Order

All 50 states in the country utilize a set of guidelines for establishing child support. The design of the guidelines is to develop a child support order that has at least some degree of permanence. With that said, there are certain situations in which a child support order can be changed. There are five key facts to bear in mind when it comes to modifying a child support order.

  • Only a court can modify child support
  • Impact of agreement between parties and child support modification
  • Change of financial circumstances of paying parent
  • Child has new financial needs
  • Modification of order to address arrearage
Only the Court can Modify a Child Support Order

A common mistake that can have serious consequences occurs when a pair of parents (or one parent acting alone) "modifies" the amount of child support being paid. Of course, a so-called informal modification of child support can take a variety of different forms. These include both parents agreeing to increase support, both parents agreeing to lower support, a parent deciding to reduce support payments, or some other scenario.

The reality is that a standing child support order duly issued by a court cannot legally be modified in this manner. This even includes a situation in which both parents agree to up the amount of money being paid monthly to support a child or children.

Even if parents agree on an upward modification of child support, the alteration must be approved by the court. In the absence of such court approval, if the parent paying support decides to stop paying the higher amount above and beyond what is required in the existing child support order, the custodial parent has no legal basis to contend the obligor is violating his or her child support obligation.

Courts really focus on three factors when a child support modification is sought:

  • Whether the proposed modification keeps support reasonably within the requirements of the child support guidelines
  • Whether there is a basis in the modification support to support a reasonable deviation from the child support guidelines
  • Whether the proposed modification is in the best interests of a child or children
Impact of Agreement Between Parties and Child Support Modification

A court will scrutinize (at least to some degree) an agreement made jointly by parents to modify child support. The court will apply the considerations set forth above in contemplating the change in support jointly proposed by parents.

With that noted, the court will give some degree of deference to parents who reach an agreement to adjust a child support order. Courts encourage parents to maintain open communication and attempt to reach agreements between themselves following a marriage dissolution, particularly when it comes to matters involving children.

Change of Financial Circumstances of Paying Parent

There are situations in which the financial circumstances of the paying parent change, a scenario that can warrant an adjustment or modification of a child support order. Exploring some specific examples helps to explain how, when, and why an alteration of a child support obligation may be acceptable as a result of a change in the paying parent's financial status.

If a paying parent receives a raise of some sort, revisiting the existing child support obligation may be warranted. Many states include specific guidance in their child support guidelines in regard to income increases and the impact on a child support order. For example, some child support guidelines delineate a percentage of wage or salary increase that triggers the possibility of increasing child support.

If a paying parent leaves his or her position of employment, reducing income as a consequence, an alteration in child support may not be permitted by the court. Generally speaking, if the parent with a support obligation voluntarily leaves an existing job for one that pays less money or for any number of other reasons, a reduction in child support very well may not be permitted by the court.

A court might consider some type of temporary reduction in child support if an obligor experiences a job separation not his or her fault. In addition, a reduction in child support may occur if the obligor develops a health problem or condition that legitimately impacts an ability to work.

Child Has New Financial Needs

If some sort of new financial need arises associated with a child, support may be increased. An example is a child who develops a health issue that necessitates additional support to pay medical bills and expenses.

Modification of a Child Support Order to Address Arrearage

If the paying parent falls behind in child support, a court may consider upping the monthly payment require. This is done to not only include money for the existing obligation but an additional amount. The added amount is designed to pay down the child support arrearage.

Questions about child support modifications can be answered more fully be an experienced family law or divorce lawyer. Basic information about child support modifications can be obtained during an initial consultation with a divorce attorney or family law lawyer. If you have any questions concerning modifying a child support order, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen for a free consultation at 201-845-7400.

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