I’ve been ordered to pay an amount of child and/or spousal support that I can’t afford. What are my options?
You have several options, depending on your circumstances. If you currently have a court order requiring you to pay either child or spousal support, the order must be modified by a subsequent court order. Otherwise, your monthly obligation to pay child and/or spousal support in the same amount will continue to accrue on a monthly basis, until such time as a court order modifying your obligation is entered. Do not simply stop paying support or decrease your payments on your own. This could subject you to compounding interest and other penalties, as well as enforcement procedures, which could detrimentally impact your credit or your driver’s license, or subject you to liens, levies, or revenue recapture by the IRS.
In order to qualify for a support modification, you must present evidence of a change of circumstance that is outside of your control, since the time the current support order was made. For example, a change in circumstances might be that your income has substantially decreased because you were laid off from your job, because you have lost key customers, or because your income consisted of interest and dividends and the market downturn has severely reduced your cash flow.
In order to obtain a support modification, you can attempt to modify the support order one of two ways. You can attempt to obtain a voluntary modification between you and the support payee. This method assumes the payee is aware of your changed circumstances and would like to cooperate with your requested modification for the purpose of saving time and/or attorney’s fees and costs (a Stipulation and Order). If you and your support payee do not agree, you must file a motion with the court under the appropriate Family Code sections asking the court to decrease your obligation. The court will review all of the relevant facts and circumstances and determine whether you qualify for a modification. Even so, be prepared that the court will not terminate your obligation to pay support and may only award you a temporary modification until your circumstances improve.
Robyn C. Santucci is an associate attorney with Phillips Lerner, A Law Corporation in Los Angeles. She can be reached at (310) 277-7117. View her firm’s Divorce Magazine profile here.