Child support modification processes vary by state. This article describes the general process and what to expect. It does not constitute legal advice.
In most states, if you have to modify an order for child support, you begin by filing a form with the family law court. There may be a different form for unmarried parents vs. married parents and most states make their applicable forms available on the courts’ website.
Once the form is filed, a modification hearing will be scheduled in family law court. A family law judge commonly modifies child support if the family has experienced a “change in circumstances,” which are the kind of big life changes such as one parent losing or getting a job, the custodial parent gets married, or the child custody or parenting time arrangement changes and the children spend more or less time with the parent who is the support obligor.
In many states, the costs of activities for older children, such as youth clubs, music lessons, camps, and sports, are not included in the initial support order. Neither are the costs of preschool or daycare for younger children. But invariably this type of cost arises and the custodial parent must file for a modification hearing so that the judge can order how the parents will share the costs, if the parties cannot agree. It is most common for the parents to pay for these expenses according to their incomes.
If children go off to college and no longer live full time with the custodial parent, it is common for the support obligor to ask the court to reduce the amount of support he or she must pay.
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Responding to a Modification Hearing Summons
When a parent has filed the form requesting a hearing to modify child support, the other parent will receive a summons which will set forth the address of the courthouse and the courtroom, as well as the date and time.
Following issuance of the summons, both parents will file case information statements disclosing their income and expenses. The parent requesting the support modification will also file his or her statement of reasons. Both parents must also provide whatever supporting documents the court requires.
If the requested change in child support amount was triggered by a change in the child custody arrangements, the parent who filed the request must also file a copy of the child custody agreement that is currently in force. agreement as well.
What Happens at a Child Support Modification Hearing?
Both parents will appear before the family law judge with their attorneys, on the date and time set forth in the summons. The attorney for whichever parent filed the modification request will present a statement of reasons for the modification, and the attorney for the other parent will respond. In many cases the parents have agreed to a modification beforehand and just need the judge to ratify their new arrangement in a court order. If the parties have not previously agreed to a modification, the family law judge then considers the reasons, the response, and the parties’ documents, and rules for or against a change in support.
When the parent who requested a change in support does not convince the judge, the amount of child support paid will not change. Frequently that parent will instruct his or her attorney to appeal a denial of modification. But if the judge ruled for a modification, the parent who responded to the summons will pay whatever amount of support the judge ordered going forward. That parent can of course appeal that as well.
My Ex Didn’t Show Up! Support Modification No-Show!
Failing to appear at a support modification hearing is not a crime, so no arrest warrant will be issued. BUT, if the respondent parent fails to show up, that parent is taking the risk that the judge will grant the modification – without his or her defending or providing any input!
In order for the respondent parent to protect his or her interest in the matter, he or she must respond to the summons, file whatever documents and forms are required, and show up at the hearing with an attorney. If that parent does not, if he or she is the support obligor, the support payments might increase. If the parent is the recipient of support, those payments might decrease.
My Ex is Not Paying Child Support and Did Not Show Up!
Important: In many states, if the support obligor does not appear at the support modification hearing and owes child support, it is then that the family law judge has the power to issue an arrest warrant. The penalties vary, but the obligor can sometimes be charged with misdemeanor and slapped with a fine that can be as much as $2500 as well as up to six months in prison. When more than $10,000 or two years’ worth of support is past due, the obligor can be charged with a felony punishable by up to 2 years’ incarceration.
Do I Need A Lawyer To Get a Child Support Modification?
No. Again, most state courts have websites that provide the required forms and fees – parents can often access a court’s website or resource center to find and print out the forms to file for a support modification or respond to a support modification summons.
If any aspect of the matter confuses you or if where you live you cannot access any of the forms you need online, contact a family law lawyer to help you.
This post was contributed by Katherine K. Wagner, Esq, a Somerset County, NJ divorce lawyer.
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