Lump Sum Child Support: Is It a Defense Against Future Payments?

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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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Some divorcing parents may try to make an agreement for a large lump sum child support payment rather than a regular, extended payment plan. However, if a parent who paid a lump sum is later sued for more child support, he will be obligated by the courts to pay more.

A notarized agreement for a lump sum payment does not protect a parent from future child support. Inflation, living expenses, and even earning capacity change over time. Unless the lump sum child support payment was an accurate projection of what the ongoing present value of child support payments would be, there’s a very good chance that a court would not even recognize the lump sum agreement. Family court judges understand that child support really belongs to the child, even though it is paid to the custodial parent (or parent of primary residence), and courts will not allow a parent to sell the right to that support too cheaply.

This is one example of what is still sometimes referred to as the court’s jurisdiction over children as parens patriae, literally meaning the parent of the country. Children, particularly young children, will always get extra protection from the court.

If a child’s mother applied for welfare, she not only can take the other parent to court for child support, she probably has no choice: it’s a good bet that she is required to cooperate with the suit for child support, and that any money collected will go to the state to offset her benefits.

In another sense, a notarized agreement, even if it was valid and enough money changed hands to make it more or less fair at the time, would still not provide protection from a suit for a child support increase if the non-custodial parent got a new job at a much higher rate of pay. As many court opinions note, although the parents may be divorced, the law will not allow a parent to divorce his children, and the children will continue to be entitled to share in a parent’s future good fortune. This is known as the doctrine of changed circumstances, under which even a final judgment after a courtroom trial isn’t necessarily the last word.

How much child support does a parent have to pay? The calculation is based for the most part on incomes, yours and that of your child’s mother, as well as the number of children. Each state has a chart called the Child Support Guidelines, and courts and family law attorneys now all use computer software to come up with a sum for child support. For more specific answers to child support payments questions, contact an experienced child support attorney in your state.

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