State laws govern most family law matters. Child support payments usually depend upon each state's statutory guidelines. Guidelines determine support amounts using total parental income, number of days each parent spends with the child, medical needs and daycare expenses. To change an existing child support order, most state laws require the parent ordered to pay child support to show there is a change in circumstances necessitating the downward modification.
Family laws vary by state. Some state statutes provide rebuttable guideline amounts as the starting base to calculate monthly child support obligations. Typically, non-custodial parents must pay the custodial parent a monthly child support allowance to cover their children’s expenses. Courts may use a number of different factors to calculate the noncustodial parent’s monthly support obligation. Using the child’s best interests as the primary concern, courts will try to award support to ensure each parent meets their children’s financial needs.
Child Support Order and Petitioning the Court
Parents may mutually agree to child support payments that are higher than the guideline amount. Once the judge signs the order, then the child support obligation is legally enforceable and binding. Absent fraud, duress or other types of claims that undermine the validity of the contract, the agreement is difficult to overturn or modify. Noncustodial parents must have a valid reason for petitioning the court for modification. Most states require petitioners to prove there was a material change in circumstances necessitating the downward modification or reduction
Invalid Reasons for Modification
Most courts will not consider temporary unemployment as a change in circumstances. Voluntary resignation, decision to pursue a separate line of employment or decision to pursue further education do not typically qualify as valid reasons justifying downward child support modifications.
Possible Valid Reasons for Modification
Courts may modify the existing child support amount for a material change in circumstances. Material changes may include an involuntary loss of employment, serious healthcare conditions requiring changing work duties and spending unanticipated funds on medical costs or other life-changing event. Some states allow downward deviations for children who were born after the order or agreement. These states may use a statutory guideline depending upon the number of children the non-custodial parent is obligated to support. Additionally, courts may reduce support awards when children are emancipated, get married or reach age 18, depending upon the jurisdictional laws within the state. Other reasons may include orders that included the child’s medical expenses, educational expenses or childcare expenses that are no longer necessary or the custodial parent’s income earnings are significantly higher. Judges will typically recalculate the income earnings of each parent based upon the state guidelines and consider those factors.
Since family laws frequently change, you should not use this information as a substitute for legal advice. Seek advice through an attorney licensed to practice law in your jurisdiction.