By Alyssha K, Duncan, Esq.
Child support is determined based on the income of both parents and the number of overnights each parent has with the children. Sometimes, after child support is determined, things change: An Obligor may lose their job, face serious health problems, or be forced to retire or switch careers. Fortunately, the courts allow for modification of child support, often based on the financial situation of the parties.
For the Obligor, or the person who owes money, an involuntary reduction in income may cause them to be unable to pay child support at the set level. If there is a 20% difference in what they were ordered to pay, and what they would pay if the child support agreement was negotiated after the change it is presumptively unfair in Minnesota. That allows the Obligor to go to court and request a modification. This may lead to a lower child support payment.
There are limitations to this. If the Obligor was fired for misconduct or quits a higher paying job and takes a lower paying one, the court may not agree to modify the agreement. The law was designed to protect the Obligor from circumstances out of their control, but there are concerns people may see it as a loophole. For instance, taking the less well paid job would be considered “voluntary underemployment.” The court may not allow a modification in that circumstance because it is concerned the Obligor is simply trying to reduce their child support payments, or that once the child support has been lowered, the Obligor will go back to their higher paying job. Therefore, taking a pay cut or losing their job does not automatically allow the Obligor to reduce their payments.
Furthermore, the 20% standard goes both ways. If the Obligor’s income increases to the point a new child support arrangement would be 20% higher, this would be grounds for the Obligee to request a modification, and if the court agrees, the amount of child support required would increase. The Obligee’s financial situation may also change and be grounds to file a request for modifications. The laws surrounding modifications can apply to either party.
It’s also important to note that modifications will apply to basic child support, however, there are other orders that can change the payments. If the Obligor is also responsible for medical or childcare payments, and those costs change, an order can also change those payments.
Parties should also consider the possibility of future modifications when proceeding in a divorce settlement. This may mean a provision that requires the parties to share certain financial information, like W-2s or insurance information. Parties can even add provisions allowing for compensation for changes in insurance costs without going to court. These provisions can help ensure the child support remains fair to both parties.
Child support modifications may seem simple, but there are several factors that the court will consider, and it’s not as easy as telling the court that your circumstances have changed. The person requesting the modification will need to demonstrate a need for such a change as well as the Obligor’s ability to pay. At Arnold & Rodman PA, we have experience modifying child support payments. Contact our office today to schedule a consultation with an attorney who can assist you in exploring your options for modification of child support.