Modification of Child Support Due to Loss of Income
The amount of child support you owe was determined using your income and financial reports provided at that time. However, circumstances do change. And if your income has been involuntary reduced, it is best to request a modification of child support as soon as possible. In general, the reasons that would warrant a modification of child support include a changes in income, unemployment, medical expenses, a child turning eighteen or graduation from high school, changes in parenting time, changes in expenses related to visitation or additional costs associated with raising the child. While the main reason to modify support may be based on an involuntary reduction of income, it is advisable to include all other relevant factors in the request for a modification.
In addition, as some time or another, many parents find themselves unable to make their scheduled child support payments due to an involuntary loss of income. If you find yourself in such a situation, do not make merely a verbal agreement with your spouse, as the court cannot honor it. Also, one of the problems with ‘verbal agreements” is that the other parent will later not honor the agreement and file a petition for contempt with the court claiming that there was no such agreement, and ask the court to order the unpaid support be paid back immediately. And the penalties for contempt can include wage garnishments, suspension of a driver’s license, attorney’s fees and even incarceration. Instead, with or without a verbal agreement with the other parent, you should request that the court approve a child support modification.
Immediate Relief Under O.C.G.A. § 9-6-15
The court can reduce your child support if you lose your job or if your income is reduced. If you lose your job or your income is otherwise involuntarily reduced, Georgia law gives you the right to immediately file an action to modify your support obligation. While job loss is usually the way someone finds their income reduced, it is not uncommon for free lancers and contractors to also find their selves between assignments or for work and income to slow down for an extended period of time. A parent generally has to wait at least two years after filing for a previous modification of support to file a new request. However, a parent that loses a job or suffers another hardship that results in a loss of at least twenty-five percent (25%) of that parent’s income may file for modification of child support immediately, regardless whether two years have passed. See O.C.G.A. § 9-6-15.
The Child Support Modification Process
The first step is to file a Petition of Modification of Child Support with the court. Your attorney will need to draft the petition, include a copy of your existing support order, and include an explanation of the reason you need to reduce your child support. In addition, a new amount for the child support will need to be proposed. A petition to modify child support can be contested or uncontested. It is usually best to try and reach an agreement with the other spouse before anything is filed with the court. In an uncontested agreement, both parents will sign an agreement setting forth the new reduced amount for the child support.
However, an agreement it is not necessary to move forward with a child support modification. If no agreement can be reached, the case can be filed as a contested child support modification. In a contested support modification case, the petition will need to be filed with the court and served on the other parent, and it will not include any signed agreement by the other parent. Service on the other parent must be official, either by a sheriff’s deputy, a court approved process server, or through an acknowledgement of service. In any circumstance, it is best to file a petition to modify child support as soon as it becomes apparent that you will start to fall behind on your child support. It is encouraging to note that most contested child support modifications will actually settle and never actually go to trial or before a judge.
Sometimes, the court will schedule a temporary hearing to decide whether the modification is warranted, but this usually has to be requested by one of the parties. If a modification is filed for involuntary reduction of income, the filing parent’s child support obligation will stop accruing at the original rate once the request for modification is served on the other party. However, ultimately the court will have to approve the reduction in support and the new amount. Once a modification of support is approved, the court will issue an order modifying the support or sign an order prepared by the attorneys setting forth the new amount. It is best to have an attorney propose a detailed order setting for the new child support amount and the details of how it will be paid and for how long.
Providing Proof of Involuntary Reduced Income May Be Required
The filer should also be prepared to prove that the amount of reduced income and that the reduction is involuntary. This can usually be done by showing the court a job termination letter or proof that a contract has been cancelled for freelance work, etc. If you have lost your job or your income has been reduced, you should speak with one of our Alpharetta Georgia divorce and family law attorneys about filing a child support mediation as soon as possible. Having an attorney file for a modification as soon as possible will prevent unpaid child support accruing under the higher amount for an extended period of time.
If you are facing a need to reduce your child support, call us at 770-609-1247 to discuss your situation with one of our experienced Alpharetta Georgia divorce and family law attorneys.