With the not-so-recent economic downturn, more and more parents are finding themselves unable to pay the monthly child support payment they could once easily afford. Northwestern Montana is no exception, as I often receive calls from prospective clients regarding child support modification. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2007 Report on Custodial Mothers and Fathers and Their Child Support, only 46.8% of parents received the full amount of child support due to them. That means over 50% of parents owing child support were either unable to pay or did not pay their full child support obligation in that year. The Report also indicates that over 25% of individuals that were owed child support contacted a government office for issues reltated to collection of past-due support. The 2007 report came out before the most recent economic dive, so it is possible that unpaid child support has increased since then.
If you are a parent unable to meet your child support obligation, you may have legal options. First, you must determine if it is time for you to modify child support. Many parenting plans have a built-in review date in the child support section. If you do not have a parenting plan or there is no review date specified, child support can be recalculated only when there has been a “substantial change in circumstances.” Major financial changes or significant changes in the number of days the child spends with each parent could qualify.
Once you have determined if you can modify your child support, you must decide where/how you want to do the modification. There are essentially two options: (1) at your local District Court; or (2) through the Department of Health and Human Services Child Support Enforcement Division (CSED). There are pros and cons to either option and your individual circumstances will likely determine which option is a better fit for you. If you determine that going through the local District Court is your best option, I highly encourage you to contact an attorney to assist you with drafting the necessary paperwork. If, on the other hand, you decide that you would like to have your child support modified by CSED, you can contact them at: http://www.dphhs.mt.gov/csed/contactthedivision.shtml. You may seek the assistance of an attorney if you go through CSED and it is important to remember that CSED does not represent your individual interests.
Also, it is important to understand that a child support modification may not always benefit you. If your income has increased or your time with your children has decreased, you may end up owing more child support at the end of a modification. Many attorneys can run preliminary calculations for you to see if you would be benefited by a modification.
The most important thing to remember if you are considering a modification is that you absolutely MUST have your child support obligation formally modified in order to protect yourself. If your ex-spouse verbally agrees to lower your monthly obligation, he/she could still seek back support for the amounts that went unpaid. The only way to ensure that your child support obligation is modified is to take the necessary legal steps.
Read the full Census Report at: http://www.census.gov/prod/2009pubs/p60-237.pdf