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Valid Reasons for Child Support Adjustments

Changes to a child support order are not uncommon as life circumstances frequently change for both the parents and the children.

Child Support Orders

Child support is a payment that is sometimes ordered by the court when two parents have children but do not live together. Child support payments are intended to ensure the children have financial support from both parents to cover expenses like housing, food, clothing, daycare, healthcare, and extracurricular activities.

Child support isn’t an automatic part of a divorce settlement. If you are sharing custody of your children and you both earn approximately the same amount of income, child support payments may not be required.

Child support payments are commonly ordered for these reasons:
  • One parent will not have physical custody of the child
  • Joint physical custody is not divided evenly between the parents
  • One parent has a substantially higher income than the other parent

How are child support payments calculated?

Child support payments are calculated differently in every state. Some general factors the courts will look at in calculating payments include:
  • The number of children involved
  • Each parent’s current income
  • Each parent’s earning potential
  • The amount of time each child spends living with each parent
There are generally two methods used to calculate child support: An income shares model or an income percentage model. You can read more about how these two calculation methods work in our blog, Who Pays Child Support.

How is child support collected and enforced?

Child support payments are usually ordered as part of your divorce settlement. If you and your child’s parent were never married, child support is ordered by your local county court after you have filed a request.

Child support payments are frequently collected by withholding the ordered support amount directly from the obligated parent’s paycheck. In some situations, parents may make payments to one another directly.

If the obligated parent is not paying child support payments, you will have to file a complaint with the court that issued the initial order. The court may then garnish wages, deny passports, withhold tax refunds, set liens on their property, or even suspend or revoke licenses to ensure compliance with the order.

Changing a Child Support Order

Changes to a child support order are not uncommon as life circumstances frequently change for both the parents and the children. Modifications to child support can be negotiated directly between the two parents, but the change still must be documented in a new child support order and signed by the court. If you and your child’s parent can’t agree on a change in child support, then you will have to file a motion with the court.

Reasons to Modify a Child Support Agreement

Decrease in Income

If one parent loses their job, he or she may be unable to meet child support obligations. Temporary modification of child support payments may be made until that parent can find another job. Other situations for a decrease in income may be because a parent has become disabled or has been incarcerated. Another cause may be that a parent is a Reservist or National Guard member who is newly activated, resulting in a change of income.

Increase in Income

If one parent experiences a substantial increase in income, the other parent may petition the court for an increase in child support payments. This increase will ensure the child’s standard of living is equivalent to the standard they would have had with the other parent.

New Expenses for the Child or Change in the Child’s Residence

Children’s needs are changing all the time, especially as they grow. Increasing expenses for schooling or medical work, such as orthodontics, are common reasons for modifications to a child support agreement. Also, as children grow, the amount of time they spend with each parent may change, and this change in living arrangements may necessitate a change in the child support order.

New Family Responsibilities for the Parent

When a parent becomes responsible for the support of new children, they may be able to petition the court for a reduction in child support payments. In this case, the parent would be ensuring there is enough money to support all of their children. Of course, this can work in reverse depending on the state in which you reside. If a parent remarries, this may increase his or her income, which could lead to an increase in monthly child support payments.

Cost of Living Adjustment Clauses

There may be a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) clause in the original child support order issued. This adjustment means that child support payments may increase or decrease each year in accordance with the annual Cost of Living. If there is not, you may request a modification based on the Cost of Living.

The laws regarding child support are complicated and vary by state. We recommend contacting an experienced family law attorney for more specific help and information on child support laws in your area.

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