How can I get my child support payments reduced?

There are two ways to get your child support payments reduced: 1) with a voluntary agreement with the other parents and, when the other parent does not agree, 2) you can petition the court for a reduction. Realize that you’re unlikely to get your child support payments reduced without a voluntary agreement. If you need legal help regarding your child support payments, use our free tool below.

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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There are two options to get your support obligation reduced. The first is by a voluntary agreement with other parent to let you pay less; if the other parent consents to a reduction, the court will almost always approve it.

Of course, many times they will not agree; when that happens, your only recourse is to petition the court for a reduction, but this is rarely granted.

To get a reduction, you’d have to show that through no fault of your own, your income has changed significantly or your expenses have increased, and that the change is almost certain to be long lasting.

A substantial period of unemployment despite diligently looking for a job or disability/illness preventing you from working (or requiring expensive medical care) are the most common reasons. But getting remarried or having new children, relocating for better quality of life, voluntarily reducing your hours or retiring or taking a lower-paying job—these reasons will not justify a reduction.

Paying child support can be financially challenging at the best of times. The parent responsible for child support payments is also responsible for personal financial obligations. If that person becomes unemployed, meeting those obligations can be difficult.

What options would someone in that situation have? Because common options for dealing with other types of debt like bankruptcy and discharge are not available in child support cases, the two available options are negotiate a temporary reduction in payments with the custodial parent or go to family court and ask the judge to modify the child support payments. If the custodial parent agrees to the change in child support payments, the process for changing child support obligation is fairly simple. The non-custodial parent must petition the court and the court will approve the alteration as long as there is no ompelling reason for it not to do so.

If there is disagreement between the parents about whether the child support order should be changed, then things become a bit more complicated. In such cases, the court must see that there has been a material change in circumstances that necessitates making a change in child support payments. Essentially, the non-custodial parent has the burden of proving that his financial situation has changed significantly enough since the first order of child support was issued that the court should reconsider its application of the state’s child support formula.

Neither option is easy. It could be difficult to get a custodial parent to agree to a reduction in payments if there is a concern about taking care of the child. Moreover, if there was an adversarial divorce or separation, there may be bad feelings or a lack of trust. While a court can modify a support order or agreement, the judge will focus on the child’s well-being. If the court believes that the child requires a certain amount of money each month for support and upkeep, it’s unlikely to change the required amount of child support. If the petitioning parent makes a strong, well-documented showing of need, that will help his or her case. Assistance from competent counsel will also help. However, even with a very compelling case for reduction, the court is more likely to rule that the person paying support can somehow reduce his expenses or come up with extra money, than it is to reduce the support payments.

The rare exception to the cases listed above is a settlement agreement which allows for such modifications. The best option may be to review your financial situation to come up with ways to meet the child support obligation.

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