Modifying Child Support Payments
One of the most integral aspects of many family law matters is the payment of child support. Parents required to make monthly child support payments usually have the best intentions to honor that obligation. They realize the importance of this money to the present wellbeing of their child and his/her future development. However, things happen in life that are often beyond anyone’s control, and the aftermath can leave a person depleted emotionally, physically and, most importantly, financially. Events like a major illness, job loss or serious accident can set a person back financially for years, and if child support is a monthly obligation putting further strain on an already strained budget, the person may feel there is no choice but to stop paying. That is not the only option, however. Florida lawmakers realize circumstances in a person’s life can easily shift in a positive or negative direction and consequently enacted a law that permit parents to request modifications to the payment amount so the expense is more in line with what the non-custodial parent is able to pay.
Grounds for Changing Child Support Payments
A court will modify an existing child support order if evidence is presented that there is a “substantial change in the circumstances” in the life of the parent obligated to pay or the child for whom the child support is received. This means the child support obligation could go up or down depending on the needs of the child and the financial situation of the parent who pays. Some examples of circumstances that courts typically accept as grounds for modification include:
- a significant change in the financial ability of a parent to pay due to things like involuntary job loss, a reduction in income or serious illness;
- health insurance becomes available and this new cost needs to be added;
- child reaches the age of 18, becomes emancipated or no longer requires day care; and
- an increase in the income.
Two Methods for Requesting Modification
If a parent wants to seek modification of a child support order, the most direct option is to file a supplemental petition for modification of child support with the court. If, on the other hand, the child support order was obtained through the child support services division of the Florida Department of Revenue (DOR), the parent can file request for review, which the DOR will act on if it believes modification is necessary. Note that the DOR will only accept a request for modification if the current child support was not reviewed or changed in the past three years. While using the DOR to seek modification is offered at no cost, the process is long and tedious due to the sheer amount of cases handled by this department. Further, the maximum available increase or decrease may not be obtained because the department cannot devote the resources needed to fully investigate a particular case.
Assuming there is a change in circumstances similar to the ones listed above, there is still one more crucial aspect that will determine if modification is justified. In order for a court to consider a change in circumstances is substantial, the difference between the current child support payment and a new amount that factors in a change in circumstances must be at least 15 percent or $50, whichever is greater under the State child support guidelines. This threshold applies to petitions filed directly by one of the parties. For requests for modifications handled by the DOR, the difference in child support must be at least 10 percent or $25, whichever is greater.
If you are having difficulty paying child support or think the non-custodial parent should be paying more, a modification may be in order. The Fort Lauderdale law firm of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. understands the importance of this money and will work to get a child support payment that is appropriate for each person’s unique situation. Contact our firm to schedule an appointment.