“I’ve been ordered to pay an amount of child and/or spousal support that I can’t afford. What are my options?”
If the court has ordered that you pay a specific amount, you will have to pay it unless and until your ex agrees to a different amount or the court orders a different amount after you file the appropriate request. But although you claim you cannot afford the support, the judge may not agree with you. Thus if your financial circumstances have changed, you can file for a modification of your support order. Call your attorney, let him/her know what those changes are, and express to him/her your wish to file for a modification.
What typically happens is that your lawyer will provide you with an income and expense declaration form that you must fill out. You may recall this document — it is the same one you filled out when you first filed for divorce. You will have to state how your expenses have changed or how your monthly income has decreased. For instance, let’s say you lost your job or have encountered health issues (caring suddenly for an elderly parent does not count because the children’s welfare and then your ex’s welfare are the court’s priority). Whatever your legitimate reason, you must prove that your monthly income has diminished. Also, if you suspect that your spouse’s income has increased, and you can prove that it has (again, the word “prove” is the operative word here), that is another way in which you may be able to bring about good cause for a modification.
Outside of a modification in a courtroom, your only other option is to ask your attorney to negotiate with your ex (through his/her lawyer) to see if you can get him/her to agree to a reduction in monthly payments. Though most exes will not usually agree to such modification (unless they are suddenly making a boatload of money and don’t want to have to go to court and gamble having to take a huge reduction in support because the judge says so), your request to negotiate a lower monthly expenditure is certainly worth a try. But again, you need evidence to support your request.
Furthermore, a potential litigant should also consider the cost of litigation to get such an increase. For example, a court case that could cost you $15,000 to $20,000 to get a $200 a month increase in child support does not pencil out. Do the math with your attorney before you make such a decision.
Stacy D. Phillips is a co-founder of Blank Rome LLP, which specializes in high-profile family law matters. She is a Certified Family Law Specialist by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization.