When the judge in your case determines your original child support obligation, the considerations may be dictated by statute, determined by the circumstances of your case, or a combination of factors. These initial considerations may affect how future evaluations of your child support obligation are reviewed. The following points are intended to help you consider whether you wish to undertake the process of seeking a child support modification.
Certain circumstances, such as a change of custody or emancipation of the child, may warrant termination of child support. However, the termination of child support is a separate set of considerations not addressed in this article. As with all legal issues, consultation with a qualified practitioner in the applicable jurisdiction who is experienced in domestic relations litigation is essential to properly review your situation.
What are my current child support obligations?
You know how much you are paying, but are you clear on what you are paying for and why you are paying it? Some states use a base percentage of your income that the judge may increase or decrease. Other states use a matrix or formula which attempts to include all of the child rearing expense variables to arrive at a child support amount. How was your child support amount figured and are those underlying numbers still accurate? If your Order or Judgment does not specify the criteria, you may need to find a copy of the financial statements or affidavits, position statements, or support calculation matrix to see what was taken into consideration – both as to incomes and expenses. You may have agreed to (or been ordered to) pay additional specific expenses, such as health insurance or costs, primary and secondary school educational expenses, daycare expenses, or activities expenses. Once you have a clear picture on what are the expenses for your children and which ones you are contributing to, you can evaluate if there have been significant changes to warrant seeking court review.
To evaluate the factors that are applicable to your support of your children, you need to assemble the records pertaining to those considerations. Tax returns and other income information are basic. How your state defines income may include interest or other non-wage income, such that all income information is needed to properly review your child support obligation. Medical and health insurance records both as to the costs and the purpose of the medical expenses are also essential. Elective or unnecessary medical, dental, or other health care may be excludible expenses or subject to limitations. If your children attend private school, a review of the educational expense should include a comparison of the quality of the public and private schooling. Activity and daycare expense information should include the costs, what your child is getting out of the activity, how often they actually attend, and information as to any alternative programs.
Is it time for a change?
State law or rules may dictate how often or under what circumstances a court will consider modifying child support. There may be a limitation period or a minimum resulting change in the amount required to prevent the courts from being clogged with unwarranted support review requests. If it appears that the current circumstances could warrant a significant (relative to your situation) change in the support obligation, filing for modification should be considered. Even if the support recipient agrees that a change is warranted, you need to have the prior court order modified by the court. A side agreement that has not been signed by a judge may have little or no legal effect leaving you open to retroactive liability for the court ordered support amount.
The first consideration that most people look at when reviewing child support is the change in the income of the person paying the child support. As many wage earners receive regular increases in salary, it is often presumed that an increase in child support is warranted regularly as well. However, increases in insurance, taxes, or costs associated with employment may offset much of the increased income. Reductions in income may also warrant a modification of child support. Temporary reductions in income may only warrant a temporary reduction in support. Involuntary changes in employment that reduce income generally will warrant reduction in child support.
The needs of the children can also change frequently. The end of daycare costs may be offset by increased food and clothing costs or new activities. Medical or orthodontia needs may change. The percentage of the food, clothing, shelter, and other costs you provide directly may have increased due to changes in the physical custody (visitation) arrangements.
Finally, the need of the other parent versus your ability to pay can also affect the modification considerations. While not a common situation, the need for support by a parent who has substantially more income may be balanced against the ability of the paying parent to pay support and meet their own financial needs. You may have a general idea of the other parent’s income based upon their lifestyle or other observations, or your attorney can obtain the information through appropriate legal process. The laws and court decisions of your state will determine whether their need or your ability to pay will be considered. A new family, a new business, your medical expenses, or other essential expenses may or may not be taken into consideration depending upon the applicable laws.
Keep an eye on the child support issue.
Child support legal criteria and the financial circumstances of all involved are constantly evolving such that regular review of the child support order is well worth the time and consultation with a qualified attorney. While State laws and rules may limit the timeframe for seeking modifications in some all or instances, you can assume the child support recipient will be looking for an increase or adjustment as often as possible. You should be on top of the information, have your records in order, and be ready to enter the child support discussion fully informed and prepared to address the actual financial needs of your children as well as each parent’s ability to contribute.