When you Can't Afford Child Support Payments After your Divorce

Divorce is easily the most traumatic experience that a married couple can go through – it not only means a breaking up of the family and loss of companionship but financial hardships on different levels. While the parent with custody of kids may be struggling to juggle family and professional commitments and more than once, sliding on the latter, the non-custodial parent may find it difficult to cough up child support payments. The latter is especially likely with rising living costs and an indifferent economy when take home pay is lower than before. If you too find yourself unable to meet child support payments after your divorce, here are a few things you can consider.

Avoid defaulting

The immediate response to dipping finances is usually to stop what you may see as extra expenses like child support payments – after all, you may reason that, it is not like your ex will not be able to feed your kids if you don’t send the check this month. This however is the worst way you can go about adjusting your child support payment. It is far better to request a modification due to changed circumstances than to fail to pay child support. Even during the time that the processing of court order on modification of child support takes, pay your ex a part of the payment on a regular basis if you can’t afford to make the full child support payment. If  you have a track record of making regular payments to your ex then your odds of winning your motion increase substantially. It is here more than anywhere else, that a history of civil dealings with your ex will come to your help. If you have been reasonable about the divorce settlements in the past and have never defaulted on alimony or child support payments, you have a higher chance of succeeding when you argue your case for child support reduction before the court. On the other hand, if your divorce was marked by rancor, repeated obstructions on your part and then you missed on child support payments, you are more likely to come off as difficult and now irresponsible – someone who is bent on wriggling out of a court-ordered commitment. In such a situation, the court may not take a generous view on your appeal for reduction of child support whereas they would be much more inclined to grant your motion if you have a history of dealing with your ex in good faith.

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File a petition

So much for what you should not do with regard to child support payments in case your finances have been straitened of late. What you can do however is to contact the Child Support Enforcement Office in the state where the child support order was issued. This will have to be followed by filing a formal motion requesting a modification due to changed circumstances. The amount of child support you owe was originally determined using your income and financial reports provided at that time. However, judges like everyone else in society are aware of the state of economy and that circumstances change over time; and for long term commitments as child support payments which can stretch over several years, filing a motion requesting a modification in the amount is hardly out of the ordinary and if your motion is backed by solid evidence and genuine reasons, there is no reason why the court cannot view your motion with sympathy.

Look for common ground with your ex

And yet no matter how valid your reasons for requesting a modification in child support payments, the entire process can be significantly shortened if you and your ex who is also the custodial payment are on the same page. If you are still on civil terms with your ex, then you might want to call him/her up and talk to see if he/she would be willing to accept a lower child support payment. If you are able to reach an agreement with your ex, the next step would be to prepare a written agreement that is called a consent order. The consent order will then have to be filed with the family court. The consent order could also provide that the child support payment could be reviewed again if your income should increase or if you should find a better job. Your ex may be more willing to sign a consent order if this type of provision is inserted into the consent order.

However in case your ex does not agree to a reduction of child support payments, it becomes crucial that you hire the services of an experienced lawyer who has an established practice in divorce cases as well as spousal and child support negotiations in your state. Since judges have considerable discretion in this area of law, it is important that the attorney you hire has significant knowledge and experience on family law in your state.

Give proof of change in circumstances

If you are requesting a modification in your child-support payments, you will have to support your petition with evidence of change in circumstances. This is again a complex legal term and thus subject to a vast array of different legal and factual interpretations but generally it falls under two categories – proof that your income has gone down or that the custodial parent’s income from other sources has gone up. If you have filed the petition on grounds that you cannot afford to pay the amount ordered by the divorce court, you will need to focus on the former that is showing that your earnings have considerably reduced than before.  Depending on exactly why you're asking for the change, this proof may include check stubs showing that you're no longer making as much money as you once made or medical records indicating that you have a serious health problem that limits your ability to earn money. If you have lost your job then you must provide the court with your termination papers. If you are “up to your eyeballs” in debt, then you should attach your credit card bills, tax debts, car repossession bills and other such documents to support your motion. In summary, in any child support reduction motion you have to present a picture of genuine financial distress.

Don’t neglect to follow up

If the court denies your request for modification of child support payments, your state's law probably limits your ability to file a new child-support modification request. But even if a judge passes an order either reducing or suspending child support, bear in mind that he or she will probably set the matter for a review in 60 or 90 days with an order that you take certain steps to become re-employed and that you inform your ex when you obtain employment. If you aren't able to obtain employment before the review hearing, you will be required prior to the hearing to provide the Court (and your ex) evidence of your job-search efforts and the results. These could be e-mails and letters that prove that you have been actively looking for work but have been unable to find any. Again the exact modality will vastly depend on the discretion of the judge looking into your alimony reduction motion - Some judges will leave this open and expect that you will make a full-time job out of trying to find a job. Other judges will set out what their expectations are like a certain number of resumes to send out each month, a certain number of phone calls of inquiry, job applications to complete and so on. It is important to comply with follow up procedures so that your situation comes off as genuine and not merely an attempt to evade your commitments.