Modifying a child support order is so confusing that many parents decide to not even bother with it even after their financial circumstances have changed.
Doing nothing, however, is a huge mistake that can wind up being extremely costly depending on your situation.
Here are five things to keep in mind regarding modifying child support orders.
Child support doesn’t modify automatically
The factors used to calculate your child support payment might have changed, but that unfortunately doesn’t automatically trigger a modification.
For example, your child might turn 18 – the age of emancipation in many states. A lot of people mistakenly assume that child support orders end automatically once a child reaches the emancipation age.
The thing is, only you and the other parent are paying attention to the child’s support eligibility.
The same is true whenever you or the other parent experience a change in income.
Maybe you received a pay cut – or your ex-spouse got a promotion. That might be grounds to modify a child support order, but it doesn’t automatically trigger a review of the existing order.
It is incumbent upon you to be proactive in letting the court know about the changed circumstances and filing for a child support modification.
Child support modifications are rarely retroactive
In most instances, modifications to child support only go back to the date the request was filed.
So, let’s say you lost your job on August 1, but didn’t file a motion to modify your child support order until a month later. Typically, the court will only consider changing the order to the date upon which you filed.
However, there are some exceptions to this rule. In Oklahoma, a statute allows a child support order to be retroactively modified if a parent paying less child support because of extensive parenting time ends up having the child less often than anticipated.
Never agree to out-of-court modifications
Going to court is not an enjoyable experience. It’s costly, both in terms of your money and time.
As painful as a court appearance might be, you should still always go through that formality when modifying child support rather than coming to an out-of-court agreement with your ex.
You might get along great with your ex. That’s great and will do wonders for your relationship as co-parents, but you should never rely on a handshake, or even a handwritten agreement, out of court to modify child support.
As great as things might currently be going with your ex, circumstances can always change and arguments can arise. If that happens, your ex might take you to court on a contempt charge because you haven’t been paying the court-ordered amount of child support.
The fact of the matter is the court is the only one with the power to modify your existing child support order.
Keep accurate records
Thorough and accurate record-keeping is a crucial part of any divorce, even after you’ve received your decree.
It is critical to keep track of all of your child support payments, medical reimbursements, daycare costs, etc.
As a divorced dad, you’re likely burning both ends of the candle, working long hours to make your child support payments and rushing around to fulfill all your roles as a father. It’s easy during the hustle and bustle of everyday life to fall behind on your record-keeping.
That can come back to bite you in a major way if your ex ever denies that she received the payments you’ve made.
There are many different methods for accurate record-keeping, and you’ll have to find a system that works best for you.
It might be worth taking advantage of a state agency income withholding. Although you’ll have to invite the government into your finances, an income withholding order is among the easiest ways to track reliable records of your child support payments.
You could also try to set up an automatic payment through your bank that includes an automatic memo that shows the payment was for child support.
One thing to always avoid is making your child support payments with cash or money order without getting a signed receipt from the other parent.
Also make sure to get signed receipts for daycare or medical expense reimbursements. You’ll need to keep those receipts organized and accessible.
Make sure your records are entered into evidence
The most detailed and accurate records will do you no good if you can’t enter them as evidence.
The rules of evidence can be extremely complicated, so it’s best to consult with an attorney to help prepare your records and ensure you get the best possible outcome when you appear in court.