Should I File for a Child Support Modification?
In recent years, it has become a trend to see frequent child support modification requests filed. Sometimes, these requests truly are driven by a belief that the financial circumstances of one, or both, of the parties have changed. However, the unfortunate truth is that, perhaps even more frequently, the true motivator is ongoing animosity between the former spouses. It is not uncommon for there to be a tendency for one parent to pursue repeated litigation in order to cost the other parent money and aggravation.
When it comes to children, any prior Order entered by the Court – whether it relates to custody, visitation or child support – is modifiable. It doesn’t make any difference what your Agreement with your former spouse says; by a matter of law, it is modifiable. That being said, the fact that it CAN be modified doesn’t mean that you get an unlimited number of hearings before a Judge or Magistrate every time you, or your former spouse, thinks that your existing child support order SHOULD be modified.
If you find yourself in a situation where you honestly believe that a child support modification is warranted, please consider and evaluate these 5 tips before filing.
HOW TO EFFECTIVELY PURSUE A CHILD SUPPORT MODIFICATION
TIP #1: Do your homework.
A modification should never be filed unless some information, even if it’s not necessarily the most reliable data, is plugged into the MARYLAND CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES formula. Child support is one of the few issues in family law where we actually have a formula that does most of the work. It factors in your income, the other parent’s income, costs of daycare, health insurance for the children, and other factors, to determine what the child support payment should be.
Look at the Guidelines and compare the outcomes. If the amount that the Guidelines indicates should be paid significantly varies from what is required to be paid under the current Order, a child support modification may be justified.
However, keep in mind that it is not uncommon for a party to file a modification request only to find out the circumstances have changed to their detriment. This means that, not only have they incurred legal fees to seek the modification, they actually end up paying more (or receiving less) child support than they were before. Many times, this situation could have been be avoided by simply doing your homework in advance.
TIP #2: Choose your battles wisely.
Going to court and hiring lawyers is expensive. The expense of litigation extends far beyond your finances. It’s emotionally exhausting and distracts from your work and family, deteriorating the overall quality of your life. It should only occur when truly necessary. So, even if you utilize the Child Support Guidelines and the “math” indicates that a positive modification may be lying ahead, you should factor in the costs associated with going down that road. It usually has to be a very large change to justify incurring those financial and emotional costs.
TIP #3: Make business decisions.
A business decision is one that is not emotional, but rather based on cost-benefit analysis. One of the most costly things that you can do in a divorce is to make decisions based solely on emotion. If you’re contemplating seeking a child support modification, make sure that you ask yourself the following questions:
- What are the associated costs?
- What are the potential benefits?
- What are the odds that I’m going to succeed?
- What’s my likely net outcome?
TIP #4: Just ask.
You’ve done the math based on what you think you know, factored in all your financial and emotional costs, and have made the decision to move forward with the modification request anyway. Now what?
BEFORE FILING, ask the other party, and his or her attorney, for current financial information. The reality is, you have not been living with this person and you don’t actually know what they are earning. What you think, what you hear, and what you see may not be accurate. You could very well be preparing to make a decision based on all the wrong information.
Ask them nicely, ask them repeatedly, and ask them in writing. Don’t simply assume that they will refuse – you might just get what you ask for. Even if you don’t, you will be able to say later in Court that you asked for the information and the other party wouldn’t provide it.
TIP #5: Settle if you can.
If you progress to this point and go through with filing for the modification, you should do everything within your power to try to reach a settlement as soon as possible. Many people think that when they file, not only are they going to get some big payday as a result of the modification, but they will also get a fee award and the court will make the other side pay their legal fees. Do not count on this! While a Magistrate can recommend, and a Judge can order, that an attorney’s fees be paid, it certainly doesn’t happen all the time. Even if you win, you may not come out ahead in the end.
For example, suppose you spend $10,000 in legal fees to get an upward increase in the amount of child support that you receive of $200 per month ($2,400 per year). In this case, it will take you more than 4 years to recover the initial costs of filing for the modification before you break even. Depending on the age(s) of your child(ren), it may simply not be worth it. If the child is 16, for instance, there will not be enough payments at the higher monthly amount to offset the upfront legal costs. In most cases, the simple math will tell you that it is wise to make every effort to reach a settlement and minimize legal fees, if possible.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, money spent on legal fees to pursue a child support modification is money that is no longer available for your children. It’s all too easy to get wrapped up in the emotions involved with a divorce and lose sight of the big picture. By calmly weighing the 5 tips outlined here before making the decision to file for a child support modification, you may end up avoiding thousands of dollars in legal fees that could be put to much better use, such as paying for your children’s care, college savings, or future inheritance.
Seek the Guidance of an Experienced Howard County MD Divorce Attorney
If you are facing difficult issues involved with separation and divorce, it’s important that you seek professional legal advice regarding your unique situation. Howard County Divorce Attorney Fred L. Coover, Esquire of Coover Law Firm, LLC has been practicing family law for 30+ years and is here to help. Contact Coover Law Firm, LLC today at (410) 995-1100 to schedule an initial consultation in our Columbia, MD office. We look forward to serving you.
Disclaimer: The information in this blog post is provided for general educational & informational purposes only. It is not intended to convey legal advice or serve as a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter.