Every parent knows their children’s needs change overtime. Sometimes it is a minor change – an extra sport fee or more food for a growing teenager. Other changes are larger and more financially stressful. Children may have to attend a more expensive school or tutoring because of their educational needs. A seemingly healthy child could suddenly experience medical problems. Because a family’s financial situation can change and because the needs of children evolve, North Carolina allows parents to ask to change child support obligations. The paying parent may ask for lower payments, while the receiving parent may request additional funds. If you are a parent who needs to modify your current child support arrangement, contact the LGBT Lawyers of Winston Salem right away.
How Was Child Support Initially Determined?
There are two ways child support can become an obligation – through an agreement between the parents or a court order. Many divorcing or unmarried parents create a private contract between themselves regarding child support. This can be how unmarried, same-sex parents determine support when they separate. A private agreement is generally allowed, though the courts have jurisdiction to determine what is best for a child during a divorce. If the child support agreement is not part of a divorce decree, the parents can modify it at any time, like any other contract.
If the support agreement is part of the divorce decree or child support was ordered by the court, then a parent seeking a modification must go through the Office of Child Support Enforcement (CSE) or the North Carolina court system.
An Administrative Option to Adjust Child Support
You can ask for a review of your child support order through CSE every 36 months or any time there has been a change in circumstances, or you can file a motion with the court. You can seek a review through CSE over the phone or by sending a letter to your local child support office. The agency will look at each parent’s income and assets as well as the needs of the child. During this review, you will have to provide the agency with information regarding all of your income, including Social Security, disability, or workers’ compensation benefits. The agency will need information about your expenses, particularly if they are a reason you are requesting a decreased obligation.
Once the review is completed, the parents are told the results and have 30 days to appeal it. If both parents consent to the outcome of the review, the change can be made administratively, without going to court. One of the main benefits of seeking a child support modification through CSE is that there are no fees.
However, this process does not work for everyone. If both parents ultimately do not agree with the agency’s decision, one of them will need to file an action in court. This can happen if the parent who seeks a lower obligation is denied or if the other parent disagrees with a lower or higher child support payment.
Returning to Court to Modify Child Support
Parents who return to court asking for a lower or higher child support obligation must prove that there has been a substantial change in circumstances since the previous obligation was determined. The paying parent may ask for lower payments because he or she lost a job, experienced an increase in personal expenses, or the other parent now has a substantially higher income. The receiving parent may return to court and ask for a higher obligation if his or her income has fallen or if the children’s expenses have substantially increased.
Whatever the change, it must seriously affect the current situation. A paying parent may be able to show the current obligation does not leave him or her enough to live on. A receiving parent may be able to show that the current payments are not enough to cover the child’s medical expenses and he or she cannot cover the rest.
The court will look to see if the new circumstances would change the support obligation by at least 15 percent. If the obligation would be 15 percent higher or lower than the original order, then the court is likely to approve the modification.
However, even if the change does not quite meet the 15 percent threshold, a parent can still ask for a modification because of special circumstances.
Benefits of Going to Court
Going to court can be the better option if there is some gray area regarding whether a modification is appropriate. The CSE uses a Review and Adjustment Checklist, which means they are looking at specific facts and figures to determine a child support amount. However, life is not always so neat and tidy. There may be many reasons why you cannot afford the amount you have been ordered to pay. By going in front of a judge, your attorney can better explain your current financial situation. The judge can then use his or her discretion in modifying and determining a child support obligation. While the judge will look at your current income and assets, like CSE, he or she can also consider special circumstances and fairness.
A North Carolina Family Law Attorney Can Help
Most parents have no problem paying child support because they want their kids to have everything they need. But that does not mean parents do not encounter financial difficulties. They may want to pay but not be able to. If you are a parent who has run into this situation, do not make the mistake of letting arrears accrue. Skipping payments or paying less than what is due each month means your obligation increases with interest. You will only dig yourself a hole that you cannot climb out of. Instead, tackle the financial issue directly. Once you realize your obligations are more than you can handle, contact the experienced LGBT family law lawyers at LGBT Law of Winston-Salem to learn how you can seek a modification. We have experience in family and child matters and strive to help your clients get to a better place. We will help you apply for a modification through CSE or head back to court. No matter your circumstances, we will fight to protect your rights.