If you find yourself in a situation where you can no longer make your court ordered child support payments, what do you do first? The first thing you need to do, is find out what the requirements for modifying a child support order are in your state. Most states will require some change in circumstance before granting any reduction or increase in the amount of child support.
The most common change in circumstance is income. However, the fact that you income has decreased since the last order of child support may not be enough. Many states will look at why your income has decreased and to what extent. Have you voluntarily quit or changed jobs? Were you terminated from your job and if so was it for cause? Losing a job by no fault of your own puts you in a much better position to justify a modification in support.
Also the decrease in income usually will need to result in a substantial reduction in your support. For example, in Indiana there must be at least a twenty percent change in the amount of support before it can be modified. The Court’s goal in ordering child support is to make sure your child is being provided for. The goal of most child support guidelines is to maintain your child’s standard of living as if your marriage were still intact. Therefore the court is wary to lower child support and presumably your child’s standard of living without a substantial change in circumstance. If you can show that your income has drastically decreased or you are unable to retain the income you once had, then a reduction in support may be in order. Another factor that will work in your favor is a history of making payments on a consistent basis. If you are ordered to make weekly payments, then make weekly payments. This is true even if the payment is not for the full amount ordered. The court will recognize an effort to pay support. This is not to say if you consistently underpay you will not be in contempt of court. However, paying something is better than paying nothing.
Also if you fall behind temporarily make up the missed payments as soon as possible. This consistency may sway the Judge when determining whether to find you in contempt of court or not. It may also factor into to his decision to modify your support. Finally understand that only a Judge can modify your child support. The mother of your child does not have the power to stop or lower your support payments. Too often I hear from fathers that the mother of their child told them that they did not have to make payments. They stop making the payments and next thing you know they are going to court for contempt. I am sure that some mothers actually understand that you have hit a rough spot and will agree that you can temporarily make partial or no payments.
Unfortunately, this is not enough to change your child support obligation. Unless this agreement is reduced to writing and approved by a Judge it is not legally binding. In conclusion, remember if you cannot make your child support payments take some action. Simply not making your payments is not the solution. Contact an attorney in your state to find out what procedures you must take to either temporarily or permanently reduce your support.
Clarissa Finnell is an associate attorney in the Indianapolis office of Cordell & Cordell, P.C.