If you are the payor or the person paying child support (remember, in today’s world, it’s not always the husband that pays. . .but that’s a discussion for another blog post) pursuant to a custody order contained in a divorce judgment or custody agreement, you should be aware of your rights. Most cases opt to utilize Friend of the Court services so that the payments go directly from the payor’s pay check, through the Michigan Disbursement Office and deposited into the payee’s bank account. Friend of the Court can also assist parties when they have parenting time disputes but whether to pursue such a matter on your own is something you must think seriously about because a family law attorney (i.e. me!) will follow proper procedure and assist you in putting your best foot forward. In addition, by law, you get a free review of child support every 36 months and you don’t have to use a lawyer.
So, one of the options you should consider if you’re falling behind in your child support is to seek a modification of your child support in hopes that the payment will go down. In my experience as a family law attorney, it is much better for the payor who is falling behind in child support to be proactive. If you can’t afford an attorney, you can still use Friend of the Court forms to file a motion for a reduction. But, remember, there is no guarantee you will prevail and an attorney will have the expertise to assist you in formulating a game plan. Most judges understand that people do fall on hard times so even if you can’t get child support reduced, an attorney can effectively advocate an appropriate arrangement so you can pay back the arrearage.
When pursuing an increase or reduction in your child support, the court will look at 3 primary factors: over night parenting time and the income of each of the parties. Many individuals pursue child support modifications without using an attorney. Sometimes it works but often it fails. The reason is, an attorney will advocate on your behalf. For example, if you’re the recipient of child support and your ex-spouse is not exercising his/her parenting time, your attorney will make appropriate arguments, present evidence, etc. to support the utilization of a lower number of over nights which may increase the child support you receive.
Another issue I see frequently is “under the table” income. People who work in restaurants, work construction, and the like often receive cash which is hard to trace. This will make the Friend of the Court’s determination difficult so an attorney will be able to employ strategies to track income that someone is trying to hide.
One final thought and perhaps the most important issue is that you must decide whether to pursue a change at all. An attorney can run the child support guidelines using some reasonable assumptions and determine if your case meets the minimum standard for modification in your favor; otherwise, you run the risk of the modification backfiring (i.e. you wanted your support payment lowered but it actually goes up). You can find the guidelines for child support modification here: http://courts.michigan.gov/scao/resources/publications/pamphlets/focb/PSA21-Text.pdf