Changing Child Support Orders After A Loss or Reduction in Income

Changing Child Support Orders After A Loss or Reduction in Income

With more than 6 million people filing unemployment claims last week, people are understandably anxious and concerned. To deal with the economic crisis brought on by the coronavirus, Congress passed a $2 trillion stimulus package providing relief in the form of direct payments, jobless benefits, and a $500 billion fund to help distressed businesses.

The stimulus package is called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). The hope is that passage of the Act will help get money back into the hands of people and businesses while we are all asked to stay home to save lives. If we undertake social-distancing measures together as a nation, experts tell us we can 'flatten the curve' on the coronavirus and salvage the American economy.

However, the stimulus will not provide financial relief for everyone. The CARES Act reportedly excludes "nonresident aliens" and those without Social Security numbers. As you might expect, there will inevitably be some low-income workers and independent contractors who won't receive relief because they can't file a claim under the Act, won't file a claim, or they will face significant delays getting help from state unemployment websites overwhelmed by the sheer number of people attempting to file claims.

This is a crisis unlike anything most Americans have witnessed in their lifetime. The economic impact of the coronavirus crisis is significant, and people from all walks of life are having to withstand a sudden and dramatic blow to their income.

We understand the current health crisis is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. At the same time, many individuals and families are having to prioritize expenses, as they are also struggling with the financial impact of the pandemic. In response to recent questions, we wanted to provide some information about making changes to child support orders when there is a loss or reduction in income for a parent.

We hope you find this information helpful…

How Guideline Child Support is Determined in California

The term "guideline" is used to describe statewide uniform child support guidelines that help to calculate a child support order in California. Guidelines are required because states receive federal funding for public assistance programs from the government. This requires states to have a plan for the uniform enforcement of child support obligations that is consistent with federal regulations.

The amount of child support is calculated based on a complicated algebraic formula found at Family Code Section 4055. In order to calculate a child support order, courts and attorneys use a software program to help make the calculation. DissoMaster is a software program widely recognized throughout California to calculate child support. The Child Support Services Department (CSSD) has their own online child support calculator that is used to obtain an estimate of the child support amount, but you should be cautious about estimating the amount of support without assistance from an attorney or professional who understands exactly how child support calculations are made.

Understanding how guideline is calculated requires a careful analysis of several important factors not covered here. These factors include consideration of each parent's income and visitation time as part of the calculation. Even though courts and attorneys use computer programs to calculate the amount of child support, it's important to understand how various factors result in a child support amount. Therefore, we strongly advise you to get help from a Family Law Professional before attempting to estimate the child support amount on your own.

Changing (Modifying) A Child Support Order

When you ask the Court to make a change to a court order, the change you are requesting from the Court is called a modification. As stated above, you need to consider all factors when re-calculating your child support order so that you can make an informed decision before attempting to modify an existing child support order. You do not want to ask the court to lower a child support payment only to discover the opposing attorney has successfully demonstrated that the amount of child support should instead be increased.

When the Court makes a guideline support determination, that order is considered "permanent" if it is included in a judgment after a trial on the issues. The Court can order either party to pay child support any time before a judgment, which will be based on statewide uniform child support guidelines. If a child support order occurs before a judgment, this is called "temporary" child support. A prior child support order is modifiable any time you can establish changed circumstances, which usually occurs after there has been a material change to parental income.

Understanding the Changed Circumstances Standard When Attempting to Modify Child Support

If you want to change a child support order, the parent requesting the modification has the burden of proof to establish a change of circumstances since the last order. When requesting to make a change to a child support order, the Court will compare financial information at the time the original support order was made to more recent financial information to see if it justifies making a new child support order.

There are several reasons why a parent may need to request to modify a child support order. This may include changes to income, job loss or unemployment, significant changes in the amount of time the child spends with a parent, a parent having another child from another relationship, or the needs of a child have changed increasing costs for childcare, health care or education.

As stated above, whatever the reason may be for requesting to modify child support, you should not rely on any one factor when estimating the amount of child support because the calculation takes into consideration several factors that could impact the final support amount.

Changing A Stipulated Agreement

Sometimes parties sign a written agreement (stipulated agreement) to a child support order, which will then be approved and signed by the judge. If parents sign a written agreement for child support that is below the guideline amount, you won’t need to show changed circumstances to modify the child support order. In comparison, if the parties stipulated to a support amount above guideline, the Court will not typically lower the child support amount unless you show a material change in your financial circumstances.

Requesting a Termination of Child Support

Both parents have a duty to provide child support to their children. In California, when there is a child support order, the duty to provide support continues for an unmarried child who has attained the age of 18 years, is a full-time high school student, and who is not self-supporting. The child support obligation generally continues until the child either completes 12th grade or turns 19 years of age, whichever occurs first. A child can be excused from the full-time high school student requirement if there is a medical condition documented by a physician preventing full-time school attendance. The specific provision(s) concerning the duration of child support in California are found in Family Code Section 3901.

If the duty of support is not terminated either by the Court or under termination of law as stated above, it may be possible to seek a downward modification to zero in an extreme case where the parent has no income.

The Court May Not Retroactively Modify Child Support

In California, in most cases an order modifying a prior child support order will commence from the date you filed your request. However, the Court has discretion to determine whether it will make a child support order retroactive to the filing date.

As an example, if a parent is laid off from work on April 1st, but the parent fails to file a request to modify until June 1st, in most cases the court will commence the child support order as of June 1st. If the Court makes a finding that there is good cause to not grant retroactivity, the Court must state the reasons for the decision on the record. While there are no specific guidelines for a court to deny retroactivity based on good cause, the Court balances a child’s needs and the potential hardship that can result from a retroactive reduction to the current child support order.

Since any order to modify child support has the possibility of being made retroactive, a parent has the ability to file a request to change a prior child support order and can specifically request that any order reducing child support be made retroactive to the date the request is filed. Getting help from a family law attorney who is knowledgeable about child support modification can help increase the chance that your child support modification hearing will result in a favorable outcome.

With respect to the current economic crisis, even though Court’s are continuing to revise daily operations in accordance with emergency orders established by the Governor during the coronavirus pandemic, our office continues to file cases. If financial circumstances are causing you to be severely impacted by the economic downturn, you should understand that retroactivity is a significant consideration.

Getting Help with Child Support Modification

We are witnessing unprecedented numbers of people suffering from a loss of income, as evidenced by the sharp increase in the filing of unemployment claims across the country. A parents' income is a principal factor when determining a child support obligation under guideline. If you are dealing with a job loss due to the current economic crisis, you may be eligible for a downward modification of your current child support.

If you need help with a child support matter, please contact one of our attorneys today at (323) 655-2105.

Disclaimer:The information contained in this blog post (“Post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this Post should be construed as legal advice from Castellanos & Associates, APLC, or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this Post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in this Post without seeking appropriate legal advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue, from a qualified attorney licensed in the recipient’s state, county or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.