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Why Parents Seek a Child Support Modification

While the average nationwide child support payment is $430 per month, it is usually much higher in New Jersey due to the higher cost of living. In some cases, that may be too little or too much based on changes in the parents’ finances. Here is some information on when one parent could request a child support modification from the court.

Child Support Can Always Be Changed

When a court enters a child support order, it is subject to modification in the future. Everything that a family court does is in the best interests of the child, and this may warrant that the amount of child support may change in the future. While it is not always easy to get a child support modification, it is possible when certain things happen.

There are two primary things that could prompt a child support modification. The first is a change in income for one of the parents. The second is the changed needs of the minor child.

It is important to know that the parent who receives child support is not the only one who has the ability to request a modification. Something may change for the paying parent that could necessitate their going to court to change child support.

Another consideration is that child support totals are usually based on a statutory table. The court has some room for leeway when applying these tables, but changes in income could affect each parent’s share of the amount that the law feels is necessary to support the child.Child Support image for Lawrence Law Divorce and Family Lawyers blog

Income Changes Would Raise or Lower the Overall Support Obligation

For example, the paying parent may earn $75,000 per year, and the receiving parent earns $50,000. If the amount to support the child is $1,500 per month, the paying parent would be responsible for $900 of it. Since they earn 60% of the combined income, they would be responsible to pay 60% of the amount necessary to support the child. If there is a large change in income, one parent may be responsible for more or less of the amount. In addition, a rise in the combined income of the parents would result in a hike to the base child support obligation.

The most common reason to seek a child support modification is that the paying parent has had an increase in income that would require them to pay more in child support. This could be through promotion, raise or an inheritance. The requirement is that the new financial situation is permanent as opposed to temporary. This threshold could also be met if the paying parent has received years of steady annual raises and their annual income is substantially higher now than it was when the initial support order was entered.

Not Every Income Change Means a Modification

One common misconception is that the receiving parent is entitled to a child support modification every time the paying parent gets an annual raise. This is incorrect. For there to be a modification based on an increase in income, there must be a substantial change in circumstances. This is the same standard that any New Jersey court would use in altering a previously entered court order.

There is no one set legal definition of “substantial change in circumstance” when it comes to child support. A divorce lawyer could advise you whether they believe that the change in income could lead to a modification. In any event, a small change in income would not be enough.

If you are the paying parent, you should also speak with a family law attorney if the receiving parent had a substantial increase in their income. It may influence your share of the child support obligations.

Job Loss Could Mean a Modification

A decrease in income can also be the grounds for a modification. Recently, many paying parents have suffered through job loss during the economic crisis caused by COVID-19. As family lawyers, we have been approached by many clients asking about their child support after they were laid off or had their hours cut. In some cases, this could be enough for a modification.

Parents should know that obtaining a modification after a job loss or an income cut is not immediate. Many people think that they can call a divorce attorney immediately after they lose their job and move for a modification. The court would expect you to spend some time looking for a job first before it is willing to permanently change child support because the modification would be permanent.

Parents Can Seek a Temporary Change in Child Support

However, if child support payments are causing you hardship, you could also seek a temporary modification during the difficult period. Courts are more likely to grant that request in acknowledgment of the parent’s situation. A family law attorney can help you get started.

Parents can also request a review of child support every three years. For this review, the court would adjust the child support based on the parents’ current incomes. They do not need to show substantially changed circumstances to adjust child support.

Increased Child Expenses

Changes in the expenses related to the children can also be grounds for a child support modification order. While the formula is largely based on incomes, judges have the discretion to depart from child support guidelines under certain circumstances. Theoretically, child support is meant to pay a parent for the costs of raising a child. The law says that the specific needs of the child are considered when setting the amount of child support.

A parent could learn after the initial child support obligation has been set that their child has special needs. This could require additional expenses as treatment and therapy for the child. Even without special needs, children may cost more to raise as they get older as there are things to pay for such as extracurricular activities and braces.

Changes in Custody Could Require a Modification

Changes to the custody agreement could also be a reason to request a child support modification. One parent may be taking more overnights with the child than they were in the past. As the parenting time split moves over 40% to closer to 50-50%, the parent who spends more time with the child could be entitled to a reduction in their child support because they have more expenses themselves in feeding and housing the children. The modification would reduce the amount that they owe monthly. Depending on their income levels, it may even mean that they could receive child support.

One should never just assume that there are substantial changes in circumstances. For example, if something was reasonably foreseeable at the time that the court entered the initial child support order, the court may not grant a modification. The parent who is requesting the modification has the burden of proof to show that the changed circumstances exist. Their family lawyer would need to persuade the court to grant a modification.

If you have any questions about the child support modification process, contact a divorce attorney at Lawrence Law. Our family law attorneys in Red Bank and Watchung are available to help. Call (908) 645-1000 today to schedule your consultation.

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