Family law doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and neither do court orders. The decision of a judge to award child support is based on a number of factors which can change after trial. One parent may experience a substantial increase in income, while the other could face a job loss. Variables affecting the child, such as the cost of childcare or medical needs, could be different from when the order was entered. Georgia courts recognize that circumstances may change in the lives of the parents or child, so our laws allow for a child support modification. Regardless of whether you are the parent who is paying or receiving child support, our family law attorneys can help you.
Why might I want or need a child support modification?
Either parent may petition the court to modify a prior child support order. Remember, however, that the court is not going to do so on its own; someone will actually need to file a formal request. A judge in Georgia may consider decreasing or increasing child support for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to:
- The party who is paying child support involuntarily loses his or her job
- The paying party becomes ill and can no longer work
- There is a significant increase in the income of either parent
- Either parent develops a physical disability
- Either parent receives additional income through remarriage
- The cost of living increases
- The child’s educational, medical or other needs change
- There is a change in child custody (e.g. the child moves in with the paying parent)
What rules will a court use to decide my request to modify a child support order?
Regardless of the reason you need to modify the child support order, you have to demonstrate that there has been a significant change in circumstances since the entry of the prior order. In particular, Georgia’s statute requires a significant change in either parent’s income and financial status, or in the needs of the child. The burden of proof will rest with the party requesting the modification. If the petitioning party fails to allege a substantial change in circumstances, the motion to modify may be dismissed.
In addition, as with all orders affecting children, the judge must determine that a new amount of child support is in the child’s best interest.
Will a change in income alone justify modification?
No, it is not enough to simply show that a parent’s income has changed. Let’s use the example of a paying parent whose income has dropped. He or she must demonstrate that his ability to pay has also changed. The reason this rule exists is that obligated parents often intentionally decrease their income or lose their jobs to avoid their child support obligations. Many parents have the false belief that if they don’t work, they no longer have to pay. But if this were the case, many children would be left to suffer because a parent disregards his or her parental responsibilities.
Are there other reasons a court may modify the agreement?
Significant changes in circumstances and income adjustments are not the only bases for changing a child support order. Another reason is if your child support was not addressed in the final divorce decree. If no such provision was made, the court may modify the final order to provide for child support.
Sometimes child support orders change when the parties use a settlement agreement to resolve their divorce. These agreements often contain what is known as an incorporation provision. This clause allows the court to make the agreement part of the final divorce decree. Incorporated agreements sometimes reserve the right of the court to modify the child support terms. In some cases, the incorporated settlement agreement may have contained a mutual mistake. If this occurs, it means the final order fails to accurately reflect the true intent of the parties. The mutual mistake must be amended to accurately reflect the true agreement and understanding of the parties.
Other less common reasons include clerical errors, mistakes, or omissions in the child support order. If one of the parents committed fraud – for instance, falsifying income records submitted to the court – that could allow the judge to change the order.
What if the other parent and I privately agree to change child support?
This is a huge red flag for any family law attorney. Parents often believe they can just agree between themselves to change child support. Even if the parents agree, they need a court order to effectuate the legal change. One reason is that either parent could agree one day to an increase or decrease and change his or her mind the next. Changes like this put the child at risk and can also harm both the obligated parent and the one receiving support.
For this reason, your child support modification must be approved by a judge. Unless and until you get a new order, you are required to pay under the old one – even if your modification request has been filed and a hearing is pending.
Contact Our Lithonia Child Support Modification Attorney Today
There are procedural rules that must be followed in filing a modification request. Your request must also sufficiently allege a significant change in circumstances. In court, your request must be backed up by evidence, and there are strict rules governing that as well. Finally, if the other parent has an attorney, he or she will likely challenge your reasons for wanting a modification.
Whether you are the obligated parent or the one being paid, going it alone in court is too risky. Count on the experience and dedication of E.N. Banks-Ware Law Firm, LLC. We will work with you regardless of which side of the child support obligation you are on. Contact us for a consultation today.