Significant changes in circumstances are usually the basis for post-divorce modifications of child support. In most cases, this is a change in income for the parent who pays the support (sometimes called the obligor); a loss of income may be grounds for reducing support, while an increase in income may be good reason for raising support. Changes in circumstances do no necessarily refer to income based changes. For example, if the child incurs new and significant expenses, such as braces or other orthodontic work, special classes, or health issues beyond the scope of insurance, these could all be reasons for raising support.
Though occurring less often, significant changes in the income of the parent seeking support (sometimes called the obligee) could also be the grounds for raising or reducing the amount of child support. The reasons for this are fairly obvious. If the income of the parent drops (especially if it is though no fault of the parent), this may be good reason for raising support, while a significant increase in income could be the basis for reducing support.
Modifications do not need to be permanent. Common reasons for temporary modifications include but are not limited to:
- A medical emergency involving the child
- The temporary inability of the obligor to pay (for reasons such as illness, the loss of a job, a medical emergency, etc.
- Some hardship, either financial of health related, on the part of the obligee
On the other hand, permanent modifications may result due to:
- Either parent remarrying, and thereby significantly increasing income
- Changes in employment for either parent
- An increase in the cost of living
- If either parent become disabled
- Some need of the child
Some states automatically review support orders every few years, so that the order remains consistent with the income and circumstances of parents and children.
Orders to pay an increased or decreased rate continue until there is another order for a different amount. Courts, in most cases, cannot make retroactive modifications to the payment amount.
Parents should keep in mind, that though it may not seem prudent to hire a lawyer when your income drops, in order to lower child support payments, it could be a very wise investment. The reduction of support lasts a lot longer than your payment to the lawyer. In the event that your local court is, to some extent, user friendly, a parent could attempt to represent him or herself, as an alternative to hiring a lawyer.
It should be kept in mind that visitation and child support are independent of each other. Consequently, a parent not receiving child support cannot deny visitation rights to the other parent in retaliation. The proper way to resolve child support that is withheld unjustly is to go to court. The reverse of this is also true; that is, if a parent is being denied visitation rights, he or she cannot reduce child support payments in retaliation. It is a matter that legally must be taken to court.