Step by step instructions on how to reduce court-ordered child support legally. Includes the filing process, and what happens at a hearing.
Even though you want to do the right thing for your child, you may have to ask the court to reduce your support for any number of reasons. Doing so involves filing a motion or petition, asking a judge to change the court order that requires you to make child support payments. You must qualify for the change and the details of the process will vary depending on your state.
Causes for Reduction
The situation of either the child or one or both of the parents must have changed before a court will consider a reduction in support. For example, your income might have dropped or your child's other parent's income increased. Circumstances may have changed for your child so he requires less support. You must show that a reduction is necessary through evidence.
Courts calculate child support based on fixed formulas prescribed by law in all states. A judge can deviate from the formula when justice requires.
Agreement Between the Parents
Parents can agree that circumstances have changed and that support should be reduced. If you and your ex agree, you can ask a judge to make the change into a written order. You'll need specific forms, often available on your state's website. You must complete and file them with the court that has jurisdiction -- typically the one that initially issued your child support order. The judge may hold a short hearing to ask if you both agree to the change. The judge will sign the order if he feels it's in the best interest of the children and the reduced amount then becomes effective and enforceable.
Agreement is the easiest way to accomplish a reduction in support when parents are amicable and can communicate well.
Complete the Paperwork
If you and your child's other parent don't agree, you must request that the court make the decision to modify support. Pick up the paperwork you'll need at the court clerk's office or download the forms from your state's website. Fill in all required information, including questions about your respective incomes. Take the paperwork to the court clerk for filing. You may need to provide proof of your income as well, and there's a filing fee in many states.
If the paperwork seems difficult, consider looking for legal assistance through your state's bar association, legal aid, or by hiring a paralegal to help you complete the forms.
The Other Parent's Paperwork
Courts in some states will arrange to deliver the necessary paperwork to your child's other parent, but in others, you must handle this yourself. It can usually be accomplished by sending the documents by certified mail or asking the sheriff to deliver them personally. Check with the court clerk for the rules in your state when you file.
Your child's other parent has a specified amount of time to file a response with the court and to provide proof of his income as well. He must make sure you're served with copies of all these documents, just as you had to make sure he was served.
The court will set a time and date for a hearing, and you and your child's other parent must attend. You must show why the court should reduce your child support obligation. Take your supporting evidence with you, such as pay statements, letters from doctors about disabilities or any information that you have about the other parent's income and how it has changed. Bring any witnesses who can help your case. The judge will review the evidence and hear testimony from everyone. He may also ask for more documentation or information about incomes and other factors so he knows he is ruling fairly.
Don't bring your children as witnesses. In some cases, the law forbids this, and it could make the court look at you very negatively.
The judge might give his decision immediately. If he does, he'll tell you the effective date of the new support amount. In some cases, the judge may want to consider the facts and review the calculations a little more before deciding. He might call you back to court a second time to hear his decision, or mail his decision to both parents.