I am going back to school full time and will be taking out loans to finance my education. My argument is that attending this school will enable me to earn a higher salary later on and so it is beneficial in the long run. I was wondering if I can modify my child support during my period of enrollment?
Modifying child support, in most jurisdictions, requires a material change in the circumstances upon which the ordered payments were predicated. I do not practice in Ohio, so I can only speak in generalities based on my experience.
It is very difficult, if not impossible to modify an order based on what you plan to do instead of what has actually happened without the other party’s agreement. For example, if your current employer gave you notice that your salary or benefits were changing substantially, you would then have grounds to seek a modification. This type of modification is very common – either the payer files a motion because of a reduction in pay or the recipient files a motion because of an increase in pay.
The biggest hurdle for you is that your actions are voluntary, and despite your best intentions to be able to provide more in the long run, the other parent has an argument that you are “shirking” your responsibility. A court uses the term shirking if it finds that a party’s employment decision to reduce or forgo income is voluntary and unreasonable under the circumstances. The general rule is that a parent remains obligated to make reasonable choices that will not deprive his or her children of the support to which they are entitled. You made the choice to return to school and decrease your earnings, even though you are aware of your current child support obligation.
The basis for a modification is stronger if the basis relates to a reason outside of your control. The court will likely focus on whether your decision to return to school is reasonable, and that likely hinges on how much you are making now, whether you will be able to continue to work while in school either part or full time, and how old the child is. If your child is still young and you can complete the program in a relatively short period of time, then there are many years where the child can benefit. If you are completing the program as your support obligation is ending, it is unlikely to be a reasonable decision.
The likelihood of modifying the order depends on the specific order, the facts of your case, and the laws in your jurisdiction. I do not practice in Ohio, so I cannot inform you as to the state’s specific laws. I encourage you to speak with a domestic litigation attorney before proceeding with your plans.
Angela Foy is an Associate Attorney in the Milwaukee, Wisc., office of Cordell & Cordell P.C. where her primary practice is exclusively in the area of domestic relations. Ms. Foy is licensed to practice in the state of Wisconsin, the U.S. District Court, and the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Ms. Foy received her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from the University of Notre Dame. She then continued on to receive her Juris Doctor from Marquette University.