Family law is rife with emotions and involves good people dealing with complicated and often controversial domestic issues. Bad things can happen to good people, and life can change in an instant. When unexpected circumstances leave an individual who is obligated to pay child support unable to pay, he or she should request that the court modify the original child support order.
At the Law Offices of Piazza, Simmons & Grant, in our 45 years of practice, we have discovered that many of our clients don’t realize that they can request a child support order modification from a court. They often assume that they are bound to the particulars of their original court orders until the minor children become adults.
Although courts in Connecticut do not grant child support modifications on a routine basis, they will grant them if the circumstances warrant a change. For example, if the supporting parent has a substantial and significant change in personal circumstances beyond his or her control, Connecticut law allows them to petition the court for a modification.
A Child Support Order Is Not Always Set in Stone
There are some circumstances that may warrant—or even require—a court to change a child support obligation. However, the individual petitioning the court for the change must convince the judge that a substantial reason exists to modify the original child support order. Something in the family dynamic must have changed drastically. It’s actually quite common for courts to review child support orders to adequately reflect changes in any living circumstances of the parties and maintain a balance between the two households.
Meeting financial obligations after a divorce or separation can be emotionally and financially taxing. To make matters worse, life changes that can compromise an individual’s standard of living often occur suddenly. In this case, child support modifications are necessary.
There is a big difference between choosing not to pay child support and being unable to pay. Not all men and women who cannot pay child support are refusing to support their children. For most people, it is a wrenching emotional experience when circumstances beyond one’s control make it impossible, even if only temporarily, to fulfill financial responsibilities.
Some of the situations that may require modifications to a child support order include:
- Loss of employment or a significant decrease in income
- Activation from the military reserves
- Major health issues of the parent seeking the change
- Permanent disability of the parent seeking the change
- Additional children that the parent seeking the change now needs to support
- Financial responsibility for aging/ill parents
The responsibilities of the “sandwich generation” are a sign of the times. Research from the Pew Institute shows that the financial burdens and responsibilities of middle-aged Americans are increasing. Nearly half (47 percent) of adults in their 40s and 50s have a parent age 65 or older, and are either raising a young child or financially supporting a grown child (age 18 or older). And about one-in-seven middle-aged adults (15 percent) is providing financial support to both an aging parent and a child.
Other Situations Can Also Lead to a Modification
When it comes to the issue of child support, many parents have more questions than they have answers. Some may not realize that—in addition to financial hardships—other scenarios may require a reduction in child support payments, including:
- The child now lives with the paying parent. In this case, that parent is likely bearing more of the costs of child-rearing than before, so the court ordered amount of financial support may no longer be fair and equitable.
- The costs of the child’s immediate needs have gone down. For example, as your child ages, the cost of child care may decrease. Perhaps your child’s braces have come off, so there are no more expensive orthodontic fees. It is also possible that piano lessons or scholastic tutoring sessions are a thing of the past.
- Your child support order is at least 15 percent too high. Based on some of the above examples, the mathematical formula used to calculate child support payments may no longer be viable, which would necessitate a change.
The Severe Penalties for Failure to Pay Child Support
If an individual who is mandated to pay child support fails to pay, he or she can face serious consequences. A court may withhold the offending parent’s income, Social Security benefits, workers’ compensation benefits, or tax return. If a court determines that a parent’s failure to pay was willful, the court may hold the parent in contempt of court. An offending parent may also face a driver’s, professional, occupational, or recreational license suspension.
When You Can’t Afford Your Child Support Payments, an Attorney Can Help
It is important to have sufficient evidence to support your request for a modified child support order. A qualified family law attorney will be able to help document your change in circumstances and file the modification request. Remember that this change must have occurred after the original court entered your existing child support order.
Child support issues are not easy to understand, and you should enlist a qualified attorney to help you. Protect your rights, and seek the services of a family lawyer who is familiar with the complexities of Connecticut law.
We Serve Our Community With Empathy and Compassion
The best advice we can give a parent dealing with a sudden inability to meet his or her financial obligations is to never violate a standing order. If your circumstances change and you find that you cannot pay your full child support payments, call an experienced Connecticut child support attorney to discuss your situation. You should never simply ignore the situation or stop paying. Failure to pay without court permission can result in serious, often irreversible consequences.
The experienced attorneys at the Law Offices of Piazza, Simmons & Grant understand how family dynamics can change, and these changes are often contentious and challenging. Our focus is on helping families find their way through life’s difficult and emotional changes and challenges with dignity.