Support payments are taken very seriously by the court system, especially child support. Remember that the law sees child support as the right of the child not the parent, and failure to make child support payments can result in heavy fines and jail time. (See Contempt of Court)

However, circumstances change, which sometimes means that the support amounts you and your ex-spouse originally agreed upon need to be reconsidered. The amount of change allowed and the factors leading up to the requested changes vary depending on the circumstances and the type of support you wish to modify. For any type of support, some of the factors the courts take into consideration include but are not limited to the loss of a job or income, or a new job or increase in income, of either the payor or the recipient.

Standards for Support Modification

Support payments can only be modified by an order of the court regardless of the situation. Even if your former spouse agrees to the changes, you cannot modify the amount you are paying without first asking the court to approve the change. The courts consider the nature and expected duration of your or your ex-spouse’s circumstances (i.e. the continued and significant change of circumstance standard) in deciding whether or not to modify support payments. First, the current support order must have been in place for at least 12 months prior to the request for modification.

If your situation or your former spouse’s has changed, perhaps an increase or decrease in support is warranted. Proper legal advice based on the facts of your case will give you a better idea of how your situation will be viewed by the courts.

Non-Payment of Support

When you or your former spouse does not make support payments, it’s important to have the court involved as soon as possible — regardless of which side of the problem you’re on.

If you find that you can’t make the amount of the payments ordered by the court, it’s important to notify the court as quickly as possible and ask for a modification. Notifying the court immediately will help you avoid charges of contempt. It also establishes with the court that there may be problems making the payments. That way you won’t have to try and explain to the judge later why you missed payments and didn’t tell anyone.

If you are not receiving the payments ordered as part of your divorce judgment, it is equally important for you to get the court involved so that you can ensure you receive what the court believes you are entitled to. If you allow the unpaid amount to get too large, getting repayment becomes difficult – or even impossible.

Additionally, making sure the court knows about the problem – from either side of the issue – will give the judge a chance to contain the situation and reduce the need for extensive (and expensive) hearings to correct the problem.

Work with your attorney to help you apply for a modification to your support agreement or to help you navigate the complexities of non-payment of support so that your rights – and those of any children involved – are protected