For many single parents, a child support payment can be the difference between living comfortably and really struggling to put food on the table. When something changes in a parent’s life the child support amount may need to be changed, and a lawyer’s help may be needed.
How Child Support is set
One parent typically has to request child support in court from the other parent. At the time of a divorce a court will almost always consider child support, and a custodial parent (the parent a child is living with) can also seek support at any time.
Alabama is a fairly typical example to look at to see how this works. The state provides a form that lists out all the children needing support. It then requires the parents to fill in their monthly gross income, alimony, child support obligations, health care costs, and work-related child care costs.
The Alabama form then utilizes a pre-set chart to select a minimum required child support amount. Say, for example, that the parents earn a combined $100,000 per year, $60,000 from the dad and $40,000 from the mom. That would require a minimum monthly child support of about $964 for one child. That minimum child support amount is then divided according to the parent’s portion of the joint income. In this example, the father would be responsible for 60% of the basic child support, about $578 per month.
If the mother has custody, then the father would have to pay that amount monthly. This amount is just a guideline, though, and the judge can alter the payments either because the parties agree on a different number or because the guideline number does not make sense for some reason.
Child Support factors are not so easy
As this example demonstrates, even though child support can be somewhat formulaic it can vary widely based on the parents’ income. Most parents can just submit their tax forms so the court can set their income amount, but it is not always that simple. For example, one parent might be a salesman whose income relies heavily on commissions. Another parent could have some side income from consulting for some months.
The judge will have to pick income amounts for each parent and it often helps to have a lawyer argue for a lower amount to avoid having an unfavorable calculation. Additionally, most states allow judges to alter the support amount from the guidelines and a lawyer for child support modification can help with that.
Perhaps more importantly, a parent’s salary will change almost every year. Some courts allow for easy modifications, especially for small changes in salary. When something major changes, like if one parent loses a job or the other parent gets a huge promotion, one parent may want the court to reconsider the child support amount.
Things to think about when choosing a lawyer
When choosing a lawyer, the American Bar Association has a few useful tips. First, make sure the lawyer is an expert in family law and child support in particular.
A child support modification motion is generally fairly simple, but an expert will know what types of factors a certain court or judge is most concerned about.
Second, make sure a lawyer will be upfront with you about his or her fees. Flat fees are becoming more common as a way to limit unexpected costs, and lawyers that work hourly should be willing to give you an estimate.
Make sure you understand how much work the lawyer will do and how much will be handed off to other lawyers and support staff. Get all your questions answered before you hire a lawyer for child support modification.