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Options When You Cannot Afford to Pay Child Support


Parents, on the whole, realize and openly accept the need to financially support a child from birth until he/she becomes an adult. When a child grows up in a two-parent home, supporting the child is not an issue since both parents are fully and actively involved in the child’s home and life. However, when parents divorce the question of child support is not so clear, especially when considerations of parenting time and financial resources are analyzed. In the end, all divorce cases involving children will have a provision for child support. Once child support is set by the court, most parents stay in compliance by making the required payments, because they realize the importance of this money to the child’s wellbeing and development. However, circumstances change, and a parent may find themselves struggling financially to fulfill this obligation. Additionally, the needs of the child may have shifted such that more or less money is now required. Parents may wonder if changing the child support amount is even possible, and it is. The important point is to seek a modification of the child support amount with a court when the change first occurs, and not wait until there is a large amount of overdue child support or negative effect on the child. A former NBA player recently convinced a court to lower his child support obligation after claiming that the money he earned as a professional basketball player is almost gone. While there is no guarantee a court will grant a modification request, it is vital to know what the standard is for modifying child support, and the types of circumstances courts generally consider significant enough to order a change.

When the Law Permits Modifications

Typically, the child support amount set initially by the court is the amount that stays in effect until the child turns 18. However, there are two grounds that a parent can use to ask for a change in amount – the best interests of the child call for the modification, or one of the parties experienced a “substantial change in circumstances.” A judge’s evaluation of either claim is subjective, which makes it difficult to predict the outcome, but at a minimum, the change in amount must differ from the present obligation by 15 percent or $50 in order for a court to consider the change substantial.

Circumstances Generally Accepted by the Courts

The most common reason a party seeks to modify a child support is due to a change in income. If a parent is fired from job or receives a large increase in pay, an adjustment to the child support payment may be justified. There is not a predetermined amount the income must change before a party can petition for a modification, but in this case, the key determination is if the increase or decrease in income would alter the child support payment by 15 percent or $50. Note that quitting a job is not grounds for petitioning for modification since the reduction in income is voluntary.

Another frequent basis for requesting a modification is a significant change in parenting time responsibilities. If one parent assumes a much greater percentage of the childrearing duties in practice, regardless of the terms in the parenting plan, a court may consider such a change in pattern as justification for modifying the child support. For example, if the original parenting plan called for one parent to have 275 overnights and the other 90, but recent shifts have the parents receiving equal overnights with the child, a court would likely adjust the child support amount.

Talk to a Family Law Attorney

If you are having issues paying your child support or need more money to support your child, talk to a family law attorney to learn if your circumstances warrant filing a modification petition. The analysis required for these requests is quite complex, and should be left to an experienced attorney to ensure the best chance of succeeding. The Fort Lauderdale law office of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. will work to obtain the result that is best for you and your family. Contact the office for a free consultation.




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