After a court enters an order on a Divorce Decree or Dissolution Agreement, many parents believe they are being short-changed with respect to child support payments. Others feel they pay too much. Parents are frequently conflicted over these issues and want the best for their children while keeping a level playing field between the parents.
Parents want to know when they can seek more or less in the way of child support payments. Often these questions arise when job changes occur, remarriage occurs, or other circumstances such as travel requirements, health care requirements, or educational goals change. Perhaps the previous Dissolution Agreement was silent about certain expenses or there are disagreements about payments of expenses….
Can parents simply agree to changes to their obligations?
Generally, the parents can agree to different terms, but for the agreement to be enforceable, the court must review the agreement and order the parents to hold to it. However, if the parties reach an agreement and carry out an alternative method of payment that substantially complies with the spirit of the original Order, the court may order modification retroactively. Generally, though, modification orders only date back to the date of the filing of a Petition for Modification of Child Support.
Can the court order a change to Child Support Obligations?
Yes, but only in certain circumstances.
First, look to the terms of the existing Order in effect in the case. Whether from dissolution court or paternity court, the latest Order should be available to review. The Order should spell out each party’s obligations regarding child support and parenting time, along with the Child Support Obligation Worksheet.
Second, a court will only order a change or modification upon request by petition when parents show “changed circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make terms unreasonable” OR when a parent shows that the obligation in the Order differs by more than 20% from the amount that would be ordered today by application of the Indiana Child Support Guidelines AND the Order requested to be modified was issued at least 12 months earlier. See I.C. 31-16-8-1.
Consult a lawyer to help you determine whether you should petition the court for a change in child support obligation because the statute and guidelines can be difficult to apply to the fact patterns presented in each case.
What does a change in circumstances mean?
Changing circumstances can include many different scenarios, but the Indiana Child Support Guidelines Commentary provides some guidance that “changed circumstances” could include “a change in the income of the parents, the application of a parenting plan, the failure to comply with a parenting plan or a change in the expense of child rearing specifically considered in the Guidelines.” A change in parenting time credit can also be considered.
What about Parenting Time changes?
Parents frequently believe that child support should be related to parenting time. Although overnights are considered in the calculation of child support, changes in parenting time can be requested any time a modification would serve the best interests of the child. See I.C. 31-17-4-2. Consult your lawyer to discuss whether such a filing is appropriate in your case.
Do you need to modify a child support obligation? The Family Law Team at Norris Choplin Schroeder L.L.P. can walk you through the process.