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Can I Modify Child Support If My Financial Circumstances Change?

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In Georgia, child support orders may be modified upon a showing of a substantial change in either parent’s income or financial status, or upon a material showing in the needs of the child(ren). O.C.G.A. §19-6-15(k)(1). A substantial change in income or financial circumstances could include the loss of a job, decrease in income, increase in income (of the other party), increase in the educational needs of the children, increase in the medical needs of the children, or decrease in the needs of the children.  The relevant time period for a modification of child support is from the date of the last order from the court, generally the date of the divorce decree or the last action for child support.  This means that the substantial change in financial circumstances must occur between the date of the former divorce decree or previous child support action and the filing of the new petition for modification of child support.

Generally, a party can only bring a child support modification action once every two years.  This two year limitation does not apply, however from the date of your final divorce decree.  So if you have a material or substantial change in financial circumstances following a divorce, you could file an action to modify child support less than two years from the date of the divorce decree. The two year limitation does apply to orders from modifications of child support.

There are limited exceptions to this two year period:

(1) If the non-custodial parent has failed to exercise court ordered visitation;

(2) if the non-custodial parent has exercised more visitation than provided in the court order; or

(3) the modification action is based upon an involuntary loss of income.

O.C.G.A. §19-6-15(k)(2)(A) (C).

The timing of a modification of child support is very important. The Court can only modify a child support order prospectively, or from the date of the filing of a petition for modification of child support. The Court cannot retroactively modify court orders from the date of the substantial change in income or financial circumstance if you wait to file.  Therefore, if you involuntarily lose your job or a material part of your income, the court can only modify your child support obligation from the date you filed going forward.

If you are involuntarily terminated from your employment, it is important to consult an attorney sooner rather than later to determine if filing a modification of child support is appropriate for your circumstances.  Do not wait until you fall behind on your child support obligation, as this could subject you to an action for contempt of court.

Informal agreements to modify child support are not enforceable. Child support cannot legally be modified by an agreement between the parties. While such informal agreements may be reached in good faith and through genuine efforts at co-parenting at the time, an informal agreement will not work to protect you from a future action for back child support.  Circumstances and relationships between parties change. If the other party subsequently decides to change their mind and files a contempt action seeking the arrearage, you could be subject to the back child support, attorney’s fees and other sanctions, no matter what the agreement was between the two of you.

In today’s economy, job loss can occur unexpectedly.  If you involuntarily lose your job or are facing other material changes in financial circumstances, relief is available.  A reduction in income or loss of job does not automatically trigger a modification, though.  You must be proactive. To best protect your rights, it is critical that you address these issues immediately with an attorney to make sure you best preserve your rights and manage your financial circumstances and legal obligations.

Reach out to an Atlanta child support attorney from Buckhead Family Law today for personalized attention.

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