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Unemployed and Broke: How Can I Lower My Child Support?

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By Missouri Cordell & Cordell Divorce Lawyers

As we all know, the economy has been in a slump. Many people have lost their jobs or seen their paycheck and hours cut.

Clients always want to know how much child support might be.

Most clients are horrified at how high child support can be even with their lowered income during these depressed economic times. Many wonder how they can survive paying child support with not much left over for all of their bills.

It can be especially galling when the other parent seems to be buying new things all of the time. If this becomes a larger issue, ask your attorney about a Motion for Accounting of Child Support by the Custodial Parent.

So how can you lower your child support when your income decreases?

In most states, child support is governed by statute and calculated using a set standard of guidelines and formulas.

Typically, these calculations are based on gross income of the parties and take into account if either party has other children, daycare expenses, health care expenses and a percentage credit for custody time, among other things.

Family courts are governed by the standard that everything needs to be in the child’s best interests. The child needs to have certain essentials, such as a home, utilities, and medical care. If the custodial parent cannot provide for these needs by themselves, the other parent needs to pay child support to ensure these needs are met.

How Much Should You Be Paying?

If you have trouble paying child support, do not wait! Consider these options:

Motion to Reduce Child Support: If you cannot pay the current amount, consider filing a motion to reduce it. The standards and procedural requirements vary by state, but, in general, parents who genuinely cannot afford to pay (e.g. have lost a job or have significant student debt) will receive a reduced amount or a long-term payment plan. Contact a mens divorce attorney in your area for information about the rules applicable to you.

Three Year Support Review: By federal law since 1996, states receiving federal assistance must review child support orders every three years. Support payors and payees have a “one time pass” every three years to ask the court to review their current child

support order. All they need to do is send a letter to the court to request it. Contact the court or child support administrator for your case to find out how your jurisdiction conducts the reviews.

How is gross income determined with changing salaries or even with job changes? 

Judges tend to look at the last three years of earned income. And yes, judges can take your overtime into account. If your overtime is not guaranteed, get a letter in writing from your supervisor. This can help your case.

Judges tend to look at a parent who has had the same job over the last several years, even with changing incomes, to be proceeding forward or up, in their career.

Judges generally will review your newest income level and use that number on the chart.  They can also look at the last three years of income if the numbers are very different.

If you have changed jobs, and you make less than you made three years ago, the judge will take those numbers and average them out. This number will then be used as gross income.

When to modify child support

Many divorced dads ask me if they can change their child support after only a few months, but usually a modification won’t be granted until at least 6 months have passed since the final order.

So, as a practical matter, motions filed within 6 months of your divorce are suspect at best. In fact, in some states the burden of proof is expressly greater if you file a motion to modify within one year of divorce.

There has to be a change in circumstances that would lead a judge to believe that child support be lowered.

What is a significant change of circumstance?

  • The child is no longer entitled to child support;
  • Verified permanent medical disability of either parent;
  • Court ordered custody change;
  • Change in daycare or medical insurance; or
  • Significant change in income in either parent’s income

A growing trend in many states is for parents to opt for no child support exchanged between the two of them. One parent pays for daycare, and the other covers health insurance. Getting to this agreement is sometimes a matter of necessity.

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