Child Support Orders & Contempt, Modification

How to Succeed in Child Support Motions

Knowing the proper legal steps to take is vital to success in obtaining a child support order in your favor. When you are seeking to obtain child support, modify child support in order to lower child support or increase child support, or enforcement services for contempt of the order, it's important to understand the legal procedures followed in family law so that the divorce court will grant your motion.

Parents owe a duty of support to their children. Even if you seek to terminate parental rights, the court will not grant termination if it believes the motive behind the request is to avoid payment of child support. When sole custody or joint custody is ordered as part of a divorce, child support payments will typically be ordered to be made to the custodial parent or primary caretaker that the child has a primary residence with. Most states have child support guidelines that are followed by the family law court in order to calculate child support payments. Often, you can find a child support calculator online to assist you in estimating the child support payment that will be owed.

Extraordinary Expenses

The parenting plan or child support order should take into account payments for unusual child care expenses due to changes in work schedule, illness, etc., extracurricular activities, medical expenses not covered by insurance, vacation and travel expenses, and higher education. These extraordinary expenses are generally taken into account after the amount of support is calculated according to the child support guidelines and considered a deviation from those guidelines. Some states also allow the court to award post-majority support for secondary education or for a child with special needs. State laws vary on these issues, so local law should be consulted.

Child Support Modification

If you are seeking to modify child support to lower child support or increase child support, you must first prove that there has been a significant change of circumstances since the original child support order that would justify such a modification in support payments. Some examples of the kinds of significant changes that may support a modification order include the following:

  • Job loss. A loss of income will support a modification of child support, as long as it's not shown to have occurred intentionally to avoid paying child support. In many cases, if a court finds that the parent has quit a job, reduced their work hours, or taken work below their capacity to avoid payment of child support, the court will deny a modification order based upon a finding of voluntary impoverishment.

  • Medical condition or disability and related health expenses/work limitations. If a parent or child develops a disability or illness, accompanied by new medical expenses and/or inability to work due to limitations or a need to care for the suffering child, modification of child support may be ordered. Extraordinary medical expenses are allowed as a deviation from child support guidelines in many states.

  • Cohabitation or remarriage of a parent that is accompanied by the new spouse or significant other's contribution to living expenses. Merely showing that the former spouse has remarried or entered into a cohabiting arrangement with another isn't sufficient to support a modification order. There must be evidence that the new person is helping to pay bills or providing other financial support.

  • Change in health insurance premiums. Since a parent is often required to pay health insurance premiums for a child, a significant change in these costs may be considered by the court when ordering a modification. Emancipation of the child. If the child has reached the age of 18, joined the military, gotten married, or obtained a court order of emancipation, the obligation for child support will be terminated.

  • Birth of a new child. The increased expenses of a newborn child may support an order of modification.

  • An increase or decrease in the amount of income received by either party. The variation should be at least 10% of the amount of income used in the child support guidelines at the time of the original order for child support, although some states require the variation to be at least 20%.

Child Support Enforcement Services

There are child support enforcement state agencies that help parents collect past due child support. Typically, a motion for contempt needs to be filed in the court that issued the support order and once the contempt order is issued, the child support services agency can seek recourse against non-paying parents and so-called deadbeat dads. Laws allow various penalties to enforce the contempt order, such as denial of a driver's license and withholding of income tax refunds.

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