I am often asked by clients when and if they should modify their child support obligation. The answer to this question hinges on many factors. States will vary in the way they calculate support. Most States base child support on one or all of the following factors: father’s income, mother’s income, number of children, childcare expenses, health insurance premiums, and number of overnights the children spend with each parent. A substantial change in any of these factors may warrant a modification.
Assuming there has been some change in one of the factors that your state considers when calculating support, do you file to modify? Some states have limitations on how often support can be modified. For example, you may only be allowed to modify one time in a 12 month period. There is likely to be requirement that the support amount change by a certain percentage in order to modify. For example, in Indiana there needs to be a 20% in the amount of support. If your current support obligation is $100 a week, then the new order must change by at least $20 a week. It is important to know the rules of your state. Remember that just because you are asking that support go down it does not mean the court is prevented from increasing your support. Most states have online calculators that you can use to estimate your payment. Use these calculators prior to filing a request with the court.
You have done your research and determined that you meet all of your State’s requirements to modify. Time to file, right? Maybe. Timing is everything. You need to look at the big picture when filing for a modification. Even if you are allowed under your State’s laws to file once a year, it is probably not wise to do so. You need to do a cost benefit analysis. If your support may decrease by $20 a week, that is a savings of $1,040 a year. This is a significant amount of money. Keep in mind the cost to achieve this goal. If you hire an attorney, your fees will likely exceed this amount. Which may be worthwhile, if you are facing another 5-10 years of support payments. If your child is about to reach the age of emancipation, then it is not likely worth the money. Even if you file without an attorney, it will cost you time. You will likely need to appear in court. This means time off work.
There may be many circumstances that will require a modification. If you lose your job, this would be an obvious time to look into modifying. Assuming no drastic change in your income, here are some times to think about modifying support.
The first time to review is when your children begin kindergarten or full-time school. Most states will include daycare expenses in their child support calculation. This may be a huge portion of your child support obligation. Taking daycare out of the equation will likely decrease your support significantly.
The next time to review support is when your children go off to college. In some states support ends at 18 regardless of whether children attend college. However, several states extend child support to 21 for children attending a post-secondary school. If your child is living away from home to attend school your support should be adjusted to account for this. Your support should be based on the number of weeks your child is living at home with the custodial parent. Keep in mind that although support may go down. You may be obligated to pay a portion of your child’s educational expenses. Also, if you have more than one child there may be no significant change in support until they are all in college.
In conclusion, always do your research before asking for court intervention. Know the rules of your state and all of the possible outcomes of your request to modify. You can do some of this on your own. Start by doing a child support calculator online. Before filing always consult an attorney. An attorney has experience with the court system that cannot be found online or in books. An attorney will help you look at the big picture and review all your options.
Clarissa Finnell is an Associate Attorney in the Indianapolis office of Cordell & Cordell, P.C. She is a member of the Indianapolis Bar Association and has been licensed in Indiana since 1997.