Legal Reasons for Child Support Modifications
Child support represents a substantial financial commitment for noncustodial parents. Staying current with payments is essential because the State of New Jersey will report unpaid child support of $1,000 or more to credit agencies. To avoid this and other negative consequences, the law grants parents the option of requesting support modifications.
Judges Must Decide Support Modification Petitions
Your existing child support order places a legal obligation upon you because it is a court order. You cannot alter its terms without the approval of a family court judge. The legal standards that a judge will apply to your case depend on the reasons for your request. For you to win in court, you must show that your reason represents a change in circumstances.
Your change in circumstances must be:
You may want child support legal help before approaching a court with your support modification. The divorce lawyer who originally handled your divorce, if available, may advise you about how to prepare your petition. Regardless of which child support attorney you choose, you’ll need to present a legally acceptable reason for altering your payment.
Losing your job could throw all of your financial affairs into disarray. Because child support arises from a court order you must follow, you will face future consequences if you fall behind on payments. Wage garnishment, tax refund seizure, and even arrest can happen to people who owe unpaid child support. Should you collect unemployment insurance, you can expect the state to subtract your child support from that benefit, which could leave you with very little for your living expenses.
Citing unemployment as a reason does not necessarily lead to approval of your petition for modification. A judge might expect you to keep looking for work or accept work outside of your normal field. Parents often face an uphill battle to show that their job loss will be permanent instead of temporary. However, judges are in a position that allows them to consider individual circumstances.
Although the financial shock of unemployment is a top reason for considering a support modification, being forced to accept lower-paying work may in the end convince a judge to approve a modification.
2. Change of Income
Your income can change for many reasons, such as:
- Inability to find any new job
- Business closure of employer
- Cut in salary
- Reduction of work hours
- Loss of clients (for self-employed people)
- Loss of business income
Many of these changes in income can be unexpected and outside of your control, as the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated. When the change to your income appears to be arguably permanent, you may qualify to have your support payment recalculated.
As you may recall, your income formed the foundation for your original child support order. After establishing your income, a family court will adjust that figure according to expenses, like:
- Parenting time
- Work-related childcare expenses
- Child medical expenses
- Support obligations to other children
If the new calculation produces a substantially different figure than your original support order, then a judge may issue a new order.
3. Health Problems or Disability
The physical health of either a parent or child can impact financial need in many ways.
A sickened or newly disabled parent may no longer be able to:
- Work as many hours
- Hold a job at all
- Provide physical care to a child
- Maintain the same level of parenting time
When a child becomes ill or disabled, the burden upon a parent can increase substantially. The parent may have to redirect time that was previously spent earning an income to caring for the child. The health needs of a child may also impose increased financial burdens on a parent. That situation may prompt a custodial parent to request an upward modification of child support.
A family law lawyer could help a parent explain the health issues that have made the current child support order obsolete. A petition that cites a health issue will need to include medical records and perhaps an occupational assessment to document changes in health and physical or mental capabilities.
4. Changing Needs of the Child
Children move through many stages on their journey toward adulthood, and their expenses can go up and down for various reasons. For example, a support order that accounted for a preschooler’s childcare may no longer need to reflect that expense once a child outgrows the need for constant supervision.
Aside from health problems, a child’s financial needs could change due to:
- Desire to attend post-secondary school
- Need for transportation
- Acceptance to extracurricular programs
- Shift in childcare needs
When considering a reason related to the needs of a child, think about how substantial the financial shift will be. A judge will not want to spend time on small changes in expenses.
5. Alteration of Parenting Time Schedule
Because parenting time is a factor used to calculate child support, a judge may be responsive to your request. The willingness of the other parent to adopt the parenting time change could aid your case as well.
The amount of time you spend providing hands-on childcare and housing influences your child support amount. A parent who has infrequent parenting time, such as a couple of weekends a month, generally pays more child support than a parent who has the kids at home multiple days a week.
Over the course of time, issues can arise that force co-parents to alter their parenting time. You might have to take on more parenting time if:
- Work hours increase for the other parent
- A health problem overwhelms the other parent
- Your child wants to live with you
- The other parental household becomes dangerous
The issue impacting your parenting schedule could translate into a modification of child support. Your petition may need to address your current custody schedule as well. A divorce lawyer could provide insights about your specific situation when you desire a substantial change to custody and child support.
6. Parental Incarceration
Being sentenced to jail time usually eliminates a parent’s ability to earn income and pay child support. In recognition of this reality, the federal government created a rule in 2016 that grants people the right to a child support review due to incarceration. The states are not allowed to call jail time involuntary unemployment.
Your legal obligation to continue paying support does not automatically cease if you enter the correctional system. Unless you have resources unaffected by jail, such as rental income, pensions, or savings, you may convince a judge to reduce your child support payments or even suspend them until you regain your freedom.
Legal Help With Support Modifications
Family courts operate to protect the best interests of children. Asking a judge to reduce your child support payment may be met with skepticism. Even so, the law recognizes that families need flexibility under certain circumstances. A divorce lawyer at the Law Office of Kelly Berton Rocco can evaluate your reason for seeking a modification. We can prepare a legal strategy to help you pursue your goals. Call our office in Hackensack, New Jersey, at 201-343-0078 today, so we can set you up with a consultation.