Has your financial situation changed since a judge issued your child support agreement plan? Have your children’s living expenses risen or fallen? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, you may be able to alter the amount of child support specified in the original agreement. While it is challenging to change decisions in divorce proceedings pertaining to property and financial assets, agreements pertaining to children are more flexible. Judges use a standard based on the “best interest of the child” to guide all decisions regarding child support agreements. This standard also includes the understanding that the “best interest of the child” can change over time.
If you are interested in changing your child support agreement, or the other parent of your child is attempting to change your child support agreement, contact an experienced Raleigh child support attorney today from Marshall & Taylor PLLC by calling (919) 833-1040 to schedule a consultation.
Why Do I Need An Attorney?
In North Carolina, the only way to change a child support agreement is to petition the court for a modification of child support. Without an attorney, it’s difficult to properly file documents with the court. When dealing with courts, failing to properly submit documents can automatically result in a judge dismissing your petition. An attorney will ensure that all documents are filed correctly and on time, helping your case go as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
Petitioning the court to modify a child support agreement may seem simple. In reality, these cases often become complicated and contentious. In most situations, the other party is unlikely to easily accept a change in child support and may fight to prevent the court from changing the agreement. For most people, it is in their best interest to hire a legal advocate for this process.
You should never sign any legal documents without first consulting an attorney, especially if they come from your child’s other parent. You could be presented with a modified child support agreement that seems favorable, but has fine print or confusing language that would be harmful to you. Once you sign a legal document, it can be extremely difficult to undo. A lawyer will ensure you’re getting a fair deal.
Similarly, we advise against communicating with the other parent of your children or their attorney during this time. A simple miscommunication may be used as evidence against you.
Why Should I Choose Marshall & Taylor PLLC?
At Marshall & Taylor PLLC, we are a team of experienced, dedicated family law attorneys with experience in child support, child custody, alimony, divorce, and other family law matters. We understand the profoundly stressful effects that family law proceedings have on individuals and families. We are proud of the compassionate and dedicated representation we provide for our clients. We work hard for our clients and consistently obtain favorable results. You can check out our testimonials for reviews from our other clients.
Child Support Agreements
Child support agreements are subject to change over time. Courts are obligated to ensure that children are adequately supported by both parents throughout childhood, so when the financial situations of parents change, child support may also need to change.
When two parents separate, a judge may issue an initial child support order, which is what would ultimately be modified if the child support modification petition is successful. There are generally three different child support guideline frameworks (called “worksheets”) that judges use to determine child support amounts. These worksheets generally correspond to the amount of time a child spends with each parent. If custody or time spent with children changes, it may warrant a modification in child support.
Worksheet “A” applies when one parent has “primary” custody, which means that this parent spends 243 nights or more with the child per year, and the other parent has less than 123. Worksheet “B” applies when parents have “joint custody,” and each parent has at least 123 overnights with each child per year. Worksheet “C” applies if there are two or more children, and each parent has primary custody of at least one child (each parent has at least 243 overnights with at least one of the children).
The relevant worksheet is filled in with relevant financial information, such as each parent’s income, the children’s living situation, and the children’s living expenses like daycare, healthcare, and more. The worksheet then gives guidelines depending on the results of the worksheet for how much should be paid in child support. A judge can decide to deviate from the guidelines and mandate a different amount of child support if they decide it’s in the child’s best interest.
Modifying Child Support Agreements
Many of the variables used to determine the original amount of child support can change dramatically over the years. Either parent is able to modify a child support agreement if there has been a substantial change in the circumstances described in the original order.
Usually, the parent receiving the child support allocation petitions for an increased amount of child support by arguing that childcare has become more expensive, or that the parent paying child support has received a significant increase in income. On the other hand, the parent paying child support usually requests a reduction in child support by citing an involuntary loss of income or an inability to work due to illness, injury, or disability, or by citing their children’s decreased care needs.
What constitutes a “substantial change” in circumstance? Every situation is unique, and your lawyer can help you determine if your change in circumstances will likely be considered substantial, but the following are some common changes often considered by courts to be substantial.
- It has been three years since your initial child support order and your circumstances would warrant a 15 percent (or greater) change in the amount of child support – This means that if you fill out the relevant worksheet to reflect your new financial situation and it reflects a change of at least 15 percent in child support, this is usually considered a substantial change in circumstances. If your income or childcare expenses change by 15 percent, it doesn’t necessarily constitute a substantial change. The worksheet guidelines take into consideration several variables.
- Childcare expenses suddenly change – This change often happens for medical or educational reasons. The need for additional care might be grounds for increased child support. Similarly, decreased needs, such as a child who no longer needs daycare, could lower the amount of child support owed.
- Significant involuntary decrease in a parent’s income – A decreased income may be the result of a job loss, mandatory reduction in work hours, or disability that prevents a parent from working.
- A voluntary reduction in a parent’s income and decreased children’s needs – Usually, voluntary actions, such as taking a lower-paying job, quitting a job, or choosing to work fewer hours, would not qualify for a change in child support. However, if a parent’s voluntary decrease in income happens at the same time as a child’s decreased needs, it may be possible to change child support. The parent petitioning for the change is required to demonstrate that:
- They have a reduced ability to pay
- The decrease in income was not in bad faith (not deliberately done to avoid paying child support)
- The child’s needs have also decreased
- Change in custody – If your child moves in or out of your home, this often counts as a substantial change. Similarly, if a child becomes legally emancipated, you will most likely no longer have to pay child support.
Child Support Termination
In some circumstance, child support obligations automatically terminate and the parent paying child support doesn’t need to petition the court for a modification. The most common situation in which child support automatically terminates is when parents only have one child and that child turns 18 or graduates high school (whichever occurs later). However, if your child is still in high school at age 18, the child support obligation does not end until they graduate, drop out, fail to academically progress, or turn 20.
If you have more than one child, the child support obligation does not automatically change or modify when one of them turns 18 or otherwise ages out of child support. However, you may be eligible to modify child support payments upon petition — it’s just not automatic.
If you are unsure whether your child support obligations have ended, it’s a good idea to consult with an attorney. Failing to pay child support when it is due can have serious consequences.
Contact an Experienced Child Support Modification Attorney
For many people, dealing with child support issues is extremely stressful. Hiring an experienced family law attorney will take some of the burden off you and increase the chances of your case being efficient and successful. At Marshall & Taylor PLLC, we understand how difficult this process can be for the whole family, and we are passionate about advocating for our clients.
Contact us today at (919) 833-1040 to schedule your consultation.