“I cannot afford to live with my child-support obligation. Can I modify it? The support my ex pays is too low and has not been modified in years. Can I move to modify? Should I?”
At Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. we observe that the initial determination of child support and future modification (child support is potentially modifiable) generates question after question and sometimes a fair amount of acrimony between parties. In some regard, if this were not the case, the child might be shortchanged; because support, ultimately, is for the benefit of the child, not to reward or punish a parent.
Further, there is always some inherent tension in calculating child support, because the Rules and Guidelines try to approximate maintaining the same lifestyle the child would have experienced if the parents were (or remained) married. This is an important goal, but we see the financial reality is sometimes far different because of the duplicated costs in running two separate households.
These underlying principles noted, the amount of child support a party is to pay is determined by a mathematical formula. This may be thought of figuratively as the child-support calculation machine. Each parent drops his or her weekly gross income into the top hopper of the machine.
Within the child-support calculation, there are several credits or offsets, such as the cost of day care or the health insurance premium for the child. What comes out the bottom is the weekly child-support obligation for the non-custodial parent. A child-support Rule mandates that this is the presumed amount of support to be paid.
However, Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. works particularly hard for its clients in finding and developing the exceptions to the Rules and Guidelines, which are called deviations. The parties may agree to a deviation, or the court may find and order it. In basic terms, if there is a good reason, there may be a basis for deviation, because the complexities of any given set of parents and child cannot ever be fully accounted for by a model.
For example, an area where we have advocated for deviation is the circumstance where one parent lives in a distant state and there are significant transportation costs for a child to visit that non-custodial parent. This may form a basis for deviation.
As a general rule, the Rules, Guidelines and custody rules, and their underlying policies, would favor lower support in this case, particularly if that is the only way a non-custodial parent may maintain a relationship with his or her child. This partially answers the question raised when the cost of living in another state, coupled with support and transportation costs, would keep the non-custodial parent from seeing his or her child.
Under a new provision of the law, the way child support will be paid is by a mandatory wage-withholding order. With a WWO, the money is taken directly out of the obligated spouse’s weekly paycheck. It is paid through the clerk at a central collection bureau. This is always the preferred way because it creates an official record of child support paid.
However, with certain clients and companies, this is viewed in a negative light. As counsel, at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. we are mindful of this and attempt to craft the most advantageous support position for our clients. This is only one of the many issues that child support raises. Indeed, while child support seems cut and dried at times because of the application of the support formula, it is anything but that. . . . this is the art to the law and its application.
With every support case that Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. is tasked with, we help clients to balance the litigation costs to try to reach and obtain a settlement or trial, if necessary, with the amount ultimately obtained if it is successful. This sometimes answers the question of whether a client should seek to modify child support.
An entirely different question is whether a client may, as a matter of law, be successful in obtaining a modification of child support in one of two ways. Under statutory provisions, the trial court may only modify child support if the movant can demonstrate in the evidence a change of circumstances so substantial and continuing so as to make the amount payable unreasonable.
Alternately, child support may be modified if a party has an existing child-support amount ordered that differs by more than twenty percent from the amount that would be ordered by applying the child-support guidelines; and the order the party seeks to modify was issued at least 12 months before the current modification petition is filed.
At Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. we find the recipe for success in defending against or successfully modifying child support often is the product of very careful analysis of the facts of the party’s life at that particular moment. Such may engage one or both of the modification standards.
One of the biggest areas of inquiry that Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys receive is with the application of the revised child-support Rules and Guidelines effective Jan. 1, 2010. For many litigants in the mid-income tier, these do not have a great impact on support being paid versus what would be paid under the revisions.
However, for payers with lower incomes, his or her weekly support obligation may decline. The acute problem is with high-income earners who may have weekly child-support obligations increase exponentially.
Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys engage child-support matters at every level, from the driving policies to appeals in higher courts. If you face a child-support matter, you should carefully select your counsel. At best, the Rules and Guidelines are a tangled roadmap to reach a weekly support number. A skilled divorce or paternity attorney may significantly develop the best child-support situation for settlement or trial purposes. Where understood, we find the Rules and Guidelines provide a great number of tools to do so.
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