Post Decree Modification of Child Support
Generally, child support is a noncustodial parent’s obligation to support a child until he reaches age 18, graduates from high school, or is otherwise emancipated. A child can be emancipated through a statutory process by entering the military service or by getting married. If a child is disabled or suffers from a debilitating disease, the support obligation can continue beyond those events. If a child attends college, there may be no statutory basis for child support but there may remain an obligation to provide post-high school tuition, costs, fees, and room and board.
When a child support award is entered, it is usually based on a statutory calculation that considers the number of children to be supported by the obligor, who is the person responsible for paying the support; the assets of the obligor; and the amount of income received by the obligor from all sources. Those factors are the background that existed at the time the support award was entered. Often, as the years pass, the needs of the children change; or perhaps the obligor’s ability to pay changes. All support obligations are modifiable in the future to take into consideration those changes. Either parent may petition the court for modification.
Generally, the petitioning parent may be entitled to a modification in child support when the parent can show evidence of a drastic change in the parties’ income and earning abilities, the assets available for support, employee benefits due each party, the costs of rearing the children, the health conditions of the parent or the child, and a change in custody. Some states will also accept as change evidence that a party has a new spouse with additional income or evidence that new family responsibilities have arisen. Generally, courts will not consider evidence of change that was created by the obligor, who seeks to reduce his child support obligation, as those courts believe that the obligor was aware of his responsibility to provide support and should not have undertaken new obligations that impaired that responsibility.
Most states require a judge to approve an order that changes a party’s obligation to pay child support because a judge has a duty to act in the best interests of the child and to insure that the parties do likewise. All states recognize that a modification in child support must be reduced to writing in order to be valid and effective. No matter how well parties get along, no party is justified in relying on the other party’s oral acceptance of the oral modification. A court is not bound by the parties’ informal modification agreements and can hold a party in contempt of court if he or she fails to comply with the court order that is on file. Unless a modification agreement is reduced to writing and made a part of a court’s file, the modification may not be valid or enforceable.