Child support orders can be in place for several years. During that time, things can and do change, so many parents wonder about modifying/changing child support payments. If you are in this position, there are some things you should and should not do if you want child support changes to go as smoothly as possible.
Do: Read the previous Separation Agreement and/or Court Order
Most (but not all) Separation Agreements tend to have within them a procedure to seek a change in child support. Such procedures might involve such measures as a meeting with a mediator first and/or an obligation to set out the basis of your requested change in writing before just starting a court proceeding.
Do: Talk to the other parent
If you can achieve a consent from the outset, that is preferable. Thus, where the relationship with the ex is civil, you may want to discuss the issue with your ex.
- If you can agree, you can make a consent motion to change the order.
- If you cannot agree, you will fill out different forms to request a change without the other parent’s consent. [But a cautionary note: Conducting a successful “Motion to Change” involves much more than just completing forms online.]
Generally, however, agreeing to a change can make the process less stressful and contentious.
Don’t: Assume you can change it whenever you want
Even if you agree to a change or feel wholly justified in adjusting payments, assuming you can change it whenever you want is a mistake. It is crucial that you go through the proper legal channels to secure a valid order, which a judge must sign off on.
Further, if you need to go to court for a change, you must prove that your request stems from a material change in circumstances. For instance, some examples of material change could be dramatic shifts in your income, the child’s needs (where the child is 18 years of age or over), or if your parenting time was formerly less than 40% and now it’s more.
And while I am disseminating cautionary tidbits, note this: If the Family Responsibility Office agrees to take less from you per month, that DOES NOT COUNT as a permanent change to your order. You are still ultimately responsible for all the arrears unless a court actually grants you relief on a Motion to Change.
Don’t: Ignore the existing order
Unless and until you get an official modification, do not ignore your existing order. Making every effort to comply with it can protect you from enforcement actions, unpleasant interchanges with your ex and other consequences. If you are struggling, talk to your lawyer right away to discuss your options.
Do: Consult a lawyer
Court orders and the legal system can be incredibly intimidating and confusing. Even if you and the other parent agree to a change, getting a new order in place still takes time and resources. To avoid delays, mistakes and costly oversights, it might not be a bad idea to work with a lawyer.
Changing a child support order is something many parents will deal with. Taking these tips into consideration can make it easier for you to get a fair and (hopefully) legally sound outcome.