In the world of family law, things often change. This is particularly true when it comes to child support arrangements between parents. Often times, one parent will lose a job and not be able to afford the previously set up child support payments. Other times, a parent will find a better, higher paying job (or just get a significant raise). Either way, the amount of the child support that gets paid should change. There are two major types of modifications: temporary and permanent. Different changes of circumstances that can temporarily effect child support payments may include:
- A child’s medical emergency
- A parent’s temporary inability to keep up with the scheduled payments due to the loss of a job or a medical emergency
Examples of changes of circumstances that can result in permanent modifications may include:
- Either parent’s household income significantly increasing or decreasing as a result of a marriage or divorce
- The child’s needs significantly change
- One of the parents become disabled
- There are changes in the cost of living
- There are changes in child support laws
If both parents can agree to the new modifications to the agreement:
The first step in changing the amount of child support is to talk with the other parent and figure out if a mutually agreeable level of payment can be reached. If the two of you can agree to the new terms of court-ordered child support payments, ask the judge to approve them. As long as both parents have signed off on it, the judge will usually approve the change.
However, if the agreed-upon changes result on the noncustodial parent paying less than your state’s guidelines suggest, it may be more difficult to get them approved. If this is the case, both parents should be prepared to explain why the agreement can work for the child and is justified.
If the parents cannot agree to the new modifications to the agreement:
Unfortunately, both parties do not always agree to changes in the previously arranged child support payments. If this is the case, you have to ask for a court hearing. At this hearing, both parents will have an opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of the suggested child support changes, as well as present any specific arguments for or against them. To get the modifications approved and permanently in place, one party has to prove that circumstances have changed in such a way that the child support agreement has to be adjusted.
It may sound like a hassle, but that is because it has been designed to be that way. Otherwise, the courts would be inundated with child custody modification requests. Another reason why there are so many hoops to jump through is because the courts are concerned primarily with the wellbeing of the children involved. Typically, stability is best for the child. Constant changes to a child support agreement are not conducive to a stable environment.
A Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) Clause
Many custodial parents find that a cost of living adjustment (COLA) clause is extremely beneficial to have in a child support agreement. Essentially, a COLA clause in a child support order mandates that the payments are to increase on a yearly basis at a level that is consistent with the annual cost of living. A standard economic indicator, such as the Consumer Price Index (CPI), usually determines the rate of change.
Some judges automatically include a COLA clause in all of their child support orders, but it is always best to check to make sure. Having a COLA clause can eliminate the need to go back to the judge in the future to ask for a modification based exclusively on the cost of living increasing.