When the Paychecks Stop: Modifying Child Support Orders in Virginia

by James Garrett on October 13, 2013

On October 2nd, the federal government shutdown as a result of Congress’ inability to pass a federal budget. National parks closed, federal agencies shut down, and roughly 800,000 federal employees were told to stay home. Yet while the paychecks have stopped arriving, the bills have not. One such cost for which many furloughed employees must account is child support payments. But should a parent be required to continue to meet their child support obligations if they’re no longer receiving income? What happens when the other parent is promoted? If a parent wishes to decrease their obligation – or increase the other parent’s obligation – modifying child support requires they must go to court.

During a divorce in Virginia, a judge determines what the non-custodial parent is obligated to contribute in order for the other parent to provide for the child. The monetary amount is determined in proportion to a parent’s gross monthly income. The court may also consider a variety of other factors, including a parent’s financial obligation to other family members and whether the child has any special medical needs.

When Can a Child Support Order be Modified?

Modifying_Child_Support_in_Virginia_BeachIf a parent in Virginia wants to go about modifying child support obligations, either parent can file a petition in court. The parent will be required to show that a change in circumstances occurred that makes the obligation unfair. Since the original order is normally proportional to a parent’s monthly income, either a significant increase or decrease in income can serve as a basis to modify an existing child support order.

Suppose, for example, a father in Virginia makes $4,000 a month as a landscaper and pays $553 a month in child support payments. Several years later, the father starts a successful business selling landscaping equipment to the National Park Service. He now makes $10,000 a month, yet still only pays $553 a month in child support. This significant change in income would likely provide a basis for the mother to seek modification of the child support order and increase the father’s child support obligation.

A decrease in income can also provide a basis for modifying a child support obligation. Let’s suppose that the judge in the example above grants that mother’s motion for a modification of a child support order. The father is now required to pay the mother $1,014 a month. The father continues to pay this new amount until – on October 2, 2013 – the federal government closes. Unable to sell his landscaping equipment to the National Park Service and pay his employees, the father closes his business and returns to his landscaping job and monthly income of $4,000. This significant decrease in his monthly income would likely constitute a change in circumstances sufficient to support an order for a modification of child support.

However, if one parent quits, refuses to take another job, or intentionally takes a lower-paying job, the court may not agree to modify the existing child support order. Most judges will not consider the modification if the change in circumstances is due to the fault or voluntary actions of the parent seeking modification.

Seeking Help in Modifying Child Support

If you have experienced a change in circumstances and would like to discuss modifying child support obligations, or discuss the obligations of the other parent, contact one of our experienced family law attorneys. Together, we will work to achieve the results you desire.

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