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Can I Modify My Child Support Order?

Going through a divorce can be a long and difficult process, especially when there are children involved. Many times, parents come away from a divorce less than satisfied. The court tries to ensure that both parents are treated fairly and that the decisions regarding the children are in their best interest. Sometimes, however, a parent may feel that it is necessary to make changes to the child support order after the fact. Other times, the situation may change and parents need to request a modification based on those life circumstances. When you need to make a change to a child support order, it must be done through the court.

Modifications to Child Support

When you go through a divorce, you and your spouse will come to an agreement as to the many settlement terms. Marital assets and other property are to be divided equitably between both parties. However, when it comes to the children, the courts take these issues extremely seriously. In Mooresville, as in other parts of North Carolina, a modification to a child support order will only be made when it is in the best interests of the child.

The best interests of the child is the standard that is used when making initial decisions regarding child support and custody and is also used when considering any requested changes after the divorce is finalized. The courts will only consider changes to child support orders when there has been a substantial change in circumstances.

The courts use a two-prong approach to child support modification requests. In order to even be considered for a modification, a parent must be able to show that there has been a substantial change in circumstances that would warrant a modification. If the court determines that there has been a substantial change in circumstances, the next step is to calculate the revised appropriate child support payments.

How is Child Support Determined Initially?

It is helpful to understand how child support is determined as part of your original divorce order. As part of the settlement process, both parents are required to provide financial information that includes income and expenses. The primary custodial parent is the parent the children spend at least 243 overnights with per year. The non-custodial parent has fewer than 123 overnights with the children per year. Shared custody or joint custody is a situation where both parents have a nearly equal number of overnights with the child each year. The courts utilize this information along with other factors to determine the amount of child support that should be paid. The law provides guidelines for child support which are used by the judge when calculating the amount of child support payments. You can view the child support calculator here.

How can Child Support be Modified?

Either parent may file a petition for child support modification. The parent must be able to prove that significant changes warrant a modification. The parent receiving child support payments may request an increase in child support payments if the expenses related to caring for the child have greatly increased. The parent may also request an increase if they find that the other parent has had a large increase in income.

A parent who is paying child support may similarly file for a modification if their income has dropped considerably or if they lost their job. This can occur, for instance, when a parent becomes disabled or is in poor health and is unable to work. It may also occur when a parent is involuntarily unemployed.

Sufficient evidence must support the modification request. The judge will only proceed with a modification calculation if there is proof that the modification is warranted. It is important to note that if more than three years have passed since the divorce was finalized and there is a 15% difference between the original order and the current guidelines, the court considers this a substantial change in circumstances. This can occur, for example, when a child support order is put in place when a child is very young and the expenses of raising a child increase over the years.

When a significant change is determined to have occurred, the court will recalculate the child support order based on the new information. A new child support order does not retroactively provide additional pay for children under the order. The new order will take effect when the judge signs it and from that date on, the new payments will be in place. Child support generally ends on its own when a child reaches 18 years of age or graduates from school as specified in your child support order.

Child support modifications are often necessary. If you are in need of a child support modification in Mooresville, contact Arnold & Smith, PLLC to discuss your needs and available legal options.