Let’s say you have filed to modify child support, or that you just received notice that you must attend a child support modification hearing. Whether you pay child support, or you are the custodial parent and you receive child support, you will be less anxious about it when you know what to expect beforehand.
And, you need to know in advance what you need to do and file to support your position regarding a change in child support payments.
I practice family law in New Jersey, so that is my frame of reference, however, most states follow a similar procedure. You can look at the court website of the state where you live to get specifics.
What You Need to Know About Child Support Modification Hearings
How To Change the Amount of Child Support
Modification of a child support order begins with filing a form by which either party can ask the court to reconsider the current child support arrangement. In New Jersey, that form can be found here for married parents and here for unmarried parents. Most states will have these forms available online.
A hearing before the family law judge is then scheduled. The judge will adjust child support if either or both parents or the child experiences a “change in circumstances.” The kind of big life changes that qualify as a change in circumstances are, for example, when a parent loses his or her job, a parent gets remarried, or the parents changed or want to change the child custody arrangement.
In New Jersey, expenses such as preschool or daycare and activities such as sports, music, or youth clubs are not listed in the Child Support Guidelines and they are not usually provided for in a child support order. As these types of expenses arise, the custodial parent might request a hearing to determine how to share the costs. Usually, the judge finds that the parties should pay in proportion to their relative incomes.
When one parent has asked for a child support modification hearing, the other parent will be served with a summons setting forth the date, time, and location of the hearing.
How To Respond to a Child Support Hearing Summons
Once a parent has filed for reconsideration of the child support order and the other party has been served with a summons, each of the parties must then file documents proving their current financial status. Whichever parents wants to modify the child support arrangement must also submit a statement of reasons for the modification.
It is very important that both parties provide whatever documents are needed to support their assertion of their current income and expenses. These documents include pay stubs, tax returns, and expenses (with proof!), among others.
If a parent is requesting a change in child support due to a change in the child custody agreement, that parent will need to provide a copy of that agreement as well. If any other information or documentation is needed, your lawyer will tell you.
At the Child Support Modification Hearing
At the time and date specified on the summons and in the courtroom of the judge who will preside over the matter, the parties will appear with their attorneys. The parent wanting to modify the child support order (or his or her attorney) will present his or her statement of reasons for the child support modification, and the other parent will have the opportunity to respond. The judge will then consider what was said as well as the parties’ documents and determine whether a change is justified.
If the filing party fails to convince the judge that a change is necessary, the child support arrangement will not change. Your attorney can help you appeal this decision if together you think that the judge’s ruling was incorrect, but in general, this is the final decision. Similarly, if you responded to the summons and your adversary prevails, you will have to pay whatever child support the judge orders. Of course, you can also appeal this decision.
What Happens If My Ex Doesn’t Show Up?
Because a child support modification hearing is not a criminal matter, the judge will not issue an arrest warrant. However, if a parent does not respond to or participate in the hearing, a judge can and will likely grant the other parent judgment by default.
Simply put, this means that if you don’t show up, the other side wins. You must respond to the summons, file all required forms and documents, and appear at the hearing to ensure that the court hears your side. If you fail to do so, either of the following may happen:
- if you pay child support, these payments can be raised without your input;
- If you receive child support, your payments could be reduced.
Either of these situations can be dire for a parent who can not afford to pay more or to receive less, in child support payments.
I’m Behind in Child Support Payments – What Happens If I Don’t Show Up?
Be warned: In New Jersey, if you fail to show up at the child support modification hearing and are behind in your child support payments, the judge may issue a warrant for your arrest. You can be charged with a misdemeanor and face a fine up to $2500 and six months in jail. If more than two years or $10,000 of child support arrears accrue, that is a felony and you can face up to two years in prison.
You don’t need that on your record ad you certainly don’t need that kind of disruption in your life. Simply put, it is in your and your child’s best interest to respond to the summons and participate fully in any hearings that arise.
Must I Have an Attorney to Modify Child Support?
Are you wondering if you can modify child support without a lawyer? The short answer is yes, and here’s how in New Jersey: visit the NJ Courts’ Self Help Center online and look for the “Couples and Families” category. Click on it. Here you will find all of the forms you need to either file for a modification of child support or respond to a summons for a hearing on child support.
If the forms or the procedure for filing seem too confusing, or if in your state the information is not online or otherwise accessible to you, an experienced family law attorney can help you and make sure everything is filed that needs to be filed, and that everything goes as smoothly as possible for you.
Katherine K. Wagner, Esq. graduated from Duke University and Washington & Lee University Law School. Ms. Wagner also holds a Certificate in Divorce Mediation from Rutgers University, and is a graduate of the American Bar Association Family Law Advocacy Institute. www.wagner-law.com