30 Apr How do I Reduce the Amount that I Pay in Child Support?
Any parent bound by a child support arrangement understands how draining that weekly, biweekly or monthly payment can be on the bank account. It seems really difficult to get ahead when being hit by astronomical amounts of child support. These payments are particularly problematic during financial crises like job or income losses. While there are specific laws related to child support minimums, a child support modification can be filed to reduce the amount paid in child support if your situation warrants it.
Child Support Modification
Your original child support agreement is modifiable under Florida law. Child support agreements are never non-modifiable. However, a parent must meet specific requirements before a modification is considered. If a parent meets the requirement for a modification, he/she can file a petition with the court to initiate a modification.
In order to file a child support modification, there must be a significant change in the parent’s circumstances. The change could be an increase or decrease of income, a change of parenting plan or a change in the parent’s expenses.
Any income changes, whether positive or negative are grounds to file for a modification of child support. This represents the most common reason a child support modification is submitted. There is not a specific amount of income change required prior to the initiation of a modification. However, the modification must result in at least a 15% change or $50 difference. If this threshold is reached, then either parent can file for a modification.
As mentioned above, either parent can file for a modification. The parent receiving the child support can request a modification if he/she believes there is a substantial change in the other parent’s income. Or, the parent paying out the child support can request a change if he/she has experienced an income cut. Regardless of who files for the modification, the threshold mentioned above must be met.
Parenting Plan Changes
A change in the parenting plan may support a child support modification. If there is a significant change in the amount of parenting time either parent has the ability to apply for a child support modification. In the past, the courts would evaluate the amount of overnight parenting as a deciding factor. However, new changes in law require that the courts evaluate the total time parenting, whether overnight or not.
The child support arrangement is to be made based on what the parenting patterns look like currently. Even if the parenting patterns are inconsistent with the parenting plan, the court will make its decision based on the parenting patterns. If the parent paying child support greatly increases his/her parenting time, there may be grounds to file for a child support modification.
There are a variety of child-related expenses that could change throughout the years that serve as grounds to file for a child support modification. One of the most common of these is day care. If a child support order is established while the children are pre-school age, and day care is included as part of that order, once day care expenses are over, there is grounds for a modification in child support. Alimony represents another expense that can alter child support. The termination of an alimony agreement can result in an income change for both parties; a decrease for one and increase for the other. This is supportive of a child support modification.
Child support arrangements established for other children represents a deduction from income. A child support order on a new child would reduce the total income of the parent paying child support, and as such is grounds for a modification. Health insurance expenses both for the child and for the parent support a child support modification. If a change in a child’s health insurance premium occurs, it could support a modification. The same applies to a parent. The health insurance premiums paid by parents on their own behalf are deductible from their gross income that child support is determined upon. If there is an increase in health insurance premiums, a parent’s gross income goes down, thus supporting a child support modification.
Job loss represents a very common reason that child support modifications are filed. A job loss represents an apparent reason for a child support modification. Job loss sometimes gets hairy as there have been cases where parents have purposely lost their jobs with the intention of lowering or cutting off their child support obligations. Obviously voluntary job loss would not support a child support modification. However, involuntary unemployment does support modification. The court takes responsibility for determining if a job loss was voluntary or involuntary, prior to the discussion of any child support modification.
Filing for a Modification
Every state and most counties have different procedures in managing child support modifications. The first step generally applies to all areas and is that the individual seeking the change is responsible for filing a Supplemental Petition to Modify Child Support and then he/she must serve this petition to the other parent. Both parents are required to disclose their financial information to the court and one-another.
Some courts require that both parties undergo mediation prior to the case being taking to trial. Some jurisdictions hold child support modification hearings in front of a Magistrate or Hearing Officer. If the Florida Department of Revenue has been involved with any case relating to the two parties in the past, the case takes on a higher level of complexity and must be conducted with a Child Support Hearing Officer.
Keep Track of Expenses and Income
While tracking income and expenses is a fundamental practice for financial wellbeing, it’s particularly important in evaluating your child support obligations. If you monitor your personal finances, you are much more likely to identify any changes very early on and can consider a modification when indicated. Failing to monitor your finances can keep you from catching changes in your income or expenses. Document all changes in circumstances. This documentation is what is required to initiation a child support modification.
If you find yourself in a situation where you are unable to make your child support payments, don’t wait to file for a modification. If you wait your child support payments become behind and any behind payments are not subject to be lowered based on a modification. Unpaid child support is non-dischargeable in bankruptcy, which means you have to pay it regardless. Acting quickly as soon as circumstances change, or you learn that they will change, is important to your financial situation.
While not all parents are able to communicate about issues of child support, doing so can greatly decrease the stress and anxiety of the situation. Talking with the other parent about a child support modification prior to initiating the process can make the entire situation much easier to deal with. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work in all cases. Mediation is available for parents unable to reach their own agreement.
Don’t Stop Paying
Do your best to continue making your child support payments. Stopping the payments under the current child support order can get you in trouble both financially and legally. If you can’t make the full payment, at least pay as much as you can. The court will see your efforts and this adds to your argument of change in circumstances. If you don’t make some effort to pay your payments, not only will they build up but the court will recognize your lack of effort.
Child support is a draining expense and is particularly draining in times of financial hardship. During times of a financial hardship, when special circumstances are met, a child support modification may be filed to reduce the amount of child support paid. Job loss, income changes, expense changes, parenting time changes and change in health insurance premiums all represent reasons supporting a child support modification.
It’s always important to make your best effort to pay your child support payment even if you can’t pay the entire amount. This shows the court that you’re making an effort and that a modification may be warranted. The first step in initiating the modification is filing Supplemental Petition to Modify Child Support. This begins the process. After that, both parties (paying and non-paying parent) will be required to submit their financial details to the court. If the court finds the change in circumstances to be significant, a new child support order will be put into place.
Child support cases can be complex and confusing for all parties involved. Seeking legal advice from a family law attorney can help you navigate the process of filing a child support modification.