Many people are under the mistaken impression that child support is a fixed amount when, in fact, the rate one pays – or is paid – can change drastically over a child’s eligible lifetime. Child support is one of the most modifiable terms of any divorce and may require a review as often as once a year or more if there is a change in circumstance.
Besides inflation based changes some of the other factors that affect the child support amount are changes in employment, income, and time-share of the children.
Change in employment can include anything from either party gaining a raise to losing a job or taking a lower paying position. Any change in employment that increases the disparity between the two parents can be considered when re-examining the child support amount. This is an important fact for someone who is paying support to consider, especially if his or her income drops dramatically.
If the individual is unable to pay the amount awarded by the court and they fail to adjust support downward the result can lead the debt to go into arrears. Arrears are debts that are never forgiven – even a bankruptcy cannot erase this serious debt from a person’s record. Once you are in arrears, you can loose any licenses that the state issues unless the debt is paid. Licenses that can be revoked include the license to practice medicine, to practice law, contractor’s licenses and even a person’s drivers license. In addition, arrears are subject to a hefty 10% per year interest penalty.
The federal government is compiling data of all support orders so there may be even more far reaching implications for those individuals in default in the future.
For the person receiving support, changes can include more income, which will adjust support down, or even the possibility of imputing income. Imputing income means that the person has the ability to earn money but is not using the opportunity. For example, a person who finally finished law school but refuses to get a job. In this case, the court can assign that person a dollar amount that it feels the person could reasonably earn and child support would be recalculated based on that number. Keep in mind, however, that the evaluation is based on both sides so if the payee is now earning more money, the award could remain the same.
Another factor to consider when reviewing the child support award is the amount of time each parent spends with the child(ren). California guideline relies in part on the division of the care. For example, if Dad is paying child support and he starts taking on more responsibility for the daily care of the children, his support payment may be adjusted down. On the other hand, if he moves away and cannot take care of the children as often as he once did, his support payment may go up.
A final consideration for parents both receiving and paying support is the fact that under current guidelines, the support calculated for two children is not two times the support awarded for one and support for three children is not three times the amount for one, etc. This means that when one or more children are involved and the oldest child reaches majority (usually when he/she turns 18) the child support does not necessarily go down in proportion to the number of children. In other words, a person receiving child support for two children will not automatically have their payments cut in half when the oldest becomes an adult. The formula is based on the youngest child being a larger percentage of the child support award.
The bottom line is that it is important to get a periodic checkup of any child support award. Keeping yourself informed and aware of how changes in circumstance can help you avoid costly mistakes.