Can I reduce child support if providing college support?

Question: I have two kids. I have custody of daughter who is 19 and going to college full time, and my 12-year-old son lives with my ex.

I’m paying for everything for my daughter, including tuition and living expenses, and my ex is unwilling to help. And my child support just increased to 100% since my daughter is over 18 years old.

Can I get a child support reduction since I’m paying for my daughter’s college and living expenses?



Possibly. While most states use a child support formula, each state calculates child support differently. Some states consider pre-tax income, others post-tax and post-expense income. In Michigan, as in most states, the formula considers post-tax, pre-expense income unless the expenses are related to raising another child, whether or not through a child support order. Even if your jurisdiction’s formula does not calculate support with post-tax, post-expense income, however, you may be able to argue that the support amount you pay now is “unjust or inappropriate.” This is a statutory phrase for all states that receive federal assistance for operating their child support and family aid programs. A support amount is “unjust or inappropriate” when, inter alia, the parent ordered to pay support has extraordinary expenses for raising a child, unusual medical expenses, a disproportionate amount of marital debt, and so forth. Your daughter’s schooling expense may render your current support amount “unjust or inappropriate.” Therefore, in addition to contacting an attorney in your area for a thorough review of your case, consider the following:

Motion to Reduce Child Support: If you cannot pay the current amount, consider filing a motion to reduce it. This might be a motion to argue just before your trial.  Be on the offense, not the defense. The standards and procedural requirements vary by state, but, in general, parents who genuinely cannot afford to pay (e.g., have lost a job) will receive a reduced amount or a long-term payment plan.

Three Year Support Review: Federal law requires states receiving federal assistance to review child support orders every three years. In Michigan, where I practice, support payors and payees have a “one time pass” every three years to ask the Friend of the Court to review their current child support order. All they need to do is send a letter to the Friend of the Court to request it. Contact the court or child support administrator for your case to find out how your jurisdiction conducts reviews. Be cautious, however, because incremental differences may not be enough to modify the current order (in Michigan, we need at least 15% deviation), and you could end up paying more support if your ex-spouse’s income has deceased more than yours.

Settlement Discussion. Explain your financial predicament to your ex, sincerely and in depth. Ask for a settlement at an amount you can afford to pay, and explain that any other higher amount will force you into bankruptcy (if true). Support obligations are non-dischargeable in bankruptcy, and your ex may be left with a bankrupt payor who is not paying anything at all if you do not settle at a reasonable amount. Be sure to reduce any settlement to a written order, with the court’s approval and abiding all court rules and statutes for turning settlement agreements into enforceable orders.

Keep in mind that I am a Michigan attorney and cannot give you detailed advice about the laws in Texas. You should not rely on this answer as establishing an attorney-client relationship, and you should contact an attorney in your area for additional information and representation. Cordell & Cordell, P.C. does have offices in Texas, and we will be happy to discuss your case in detail.


Jennifer M. Paine is an Associate Attorney in the Detroit, Michigan office of Cordell & Cordell P.C. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims. Ms. Paine received her BA in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.

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