Most states have agencies that help parents collect child support, and federal law requires these agencies to have a process for reviewing existing child support orders to see if they need to be changed. The agency may also enforce an existing order through enforcement measures, such as income withholding or wage garnishment, or it can file a petition to change the support amount in court. This article explains what parents need to do when the circumstances of their financial situation have changed and they want to modify their child support payments.
Most courts will only consider a modification request if there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the existing order was established. This is the same standard that a judge must follow when deciding on an initial child support order. Generally, this means that either parent must have a change in their income that would require a 10% or 20% change in the existing child support guidelines. Depending on the state, there may be other requirements for a court to review an existing child support order, such as a certain amount of time passing since the original order was established or a specific event occurring.
If both parents have seen a change in their income, then they may need to submit financial affidavits that show their current income. The affidavits will likely include information about their employment, investments, and other sources of income. They will also typically provide detailed expense statements and supporting documentation to help a judge determine whether there has been a change in circumstances that warrants a child support modification.
Parents seeking a decrease in child support payments must show that their reduction in income was involuntary, such as being laid off or having their hours cut. If the reduction in income was due to a voluntary decision, such as leaving a job that wasn’t financially rewarding, then it might not count as a substantial change in circumstances. Similarly, it might not count as a substantial change if a parent is retiring or has been fired because of poor performance or misconduct.
In some cases, a cost-of-living adjustment might be enough to justify an increase in child support. In this situation, the agency will send both parents a notice that their case is eligible for a cost-of-living adjustment and that they can each request an increase in their respective child support obligations. In these situations, the parent who makes more money can choose to go through the court process to get a higher child support obligation. Alternatively, the other parent can agree to a change in child support and sign an agreement with the agency that specifies the new amount. The agency then files the agreement in court. In this scenario, the other parent will only be legally obligated to pay the agreed-upon amount. If they decline to sign, then the court will not modify the existing support order. If the judge refuses to approve the change, then the parent who requested it can appeal the decision within a certain time period. If that is not possible, a family and divorce lawyer in Miami can advise the client on what their options are to try to collect the amounts owed.