Can a lawyer help me decrease my child support payments?

Learn how a family law attorney can help you modify your child support obligation.

By , Attorney · Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School
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You may be wondering, "can a lawyer help me decrease my child support payments?" A family law attorney can help parents with child support issues, including establishing, enforcing, and changing child support payments. Continue reading to learn more about hiring a lawyer for child support modifications.

Child Support Basics

A child, not a parent, has a fundamental right to receive child support. Child support is typically based on a state guideline or formula that factors in both parents' incomes and the amount of time each parent spends with the child. Once a child support amount is ordered, a parent must continue paying it unless and until a court issues another child support order changing the amount.

Courts take child support awards seriously and a deadbeat parent's failure to pay a child support obligation can result in severe consequences. For example, if you stop paying child support or pay less than what your court order requires, a judge could garnish your wages, take your driver's license or professional license, or even order you to spend time in jail. So when a court orders you to pay child support, you need to pay it, unless you can show a very compelling reason not to.

What Does a Child Support Lawyer Do?

Child support attorneys are actually family law attorneys who are experienced in child-related issues, such as custody, visitation, and support. You are unlikely to find an attorney that is referred to as a "child support lawyer," but you can search for divorce attorneys or family law attorneys who specialize in child custody and have experience establishing and modifying child support orders in your area.

Hearing Preparation

For parents going through a divorce or custody proceeding for the first time, you'll need to establish child support, usually at a temporary orders hearing or trial. If you have an existing child support order, a family law attorney can help you change the amount if necessary, by filing a modification request (sometimes called a "Motion to Modify"). Your attorney will also have to gather any necessary evidence, such as tax returns, pay stubs, and other financial information showing how much each parent earns.

Child support modifications usually require a court hearing in front of a judge. Your attorney can help you prepare for the hearing, gather important evidence, and present your case to the court.

Calculating and Modifying Child Support

Most states have enacted their own child support guidelines. State child support guidelines help parents and judges figure out child support by plugging in each parent's income numbers into a child support calculator. However, in some cases the guideline child support amount isn't appropriate. If you need to deviate from the guideline child support amount, an attorney can help you prove to a judge why you need to decrease or increase your child support award.

What Types of Cases Do Family Law Attorneys Handle?

Most family law attorneys handle divorces, which often include issues of property division, alimony, child custody, and child support enforcement or modification actions. They also handle child custody and support cases for parents who were never married to one another.

If you have a child support issue, an experienced family law attorney can help you make sure the child support award is appropriate, based on your state's laws. If you can no longer keep up with your child support payments, an experienced attorney can guide you through the steps you need to take to reduce your child support amount.

How Will an Attorney Help Me Reduce Child Support?

If you hire a lawyer to reduce your payments, your attorney will first file a petition (legal paperwork) asking the court for a reduction. Each state has its own rules for deciding when to reduce child support, but in most states you'll need to show that there's been a substantial change in circumstances that prevents you from paying court-ordered child support.

A "substantial change in circumstances" usually means that something major in your life, such as your income, living arrangements, or health have significantly changed since the initial child support order was entered. For example, if you have received a medical diagnosis and can no longer work or lost your job through no fault of your own, you may be able to lower your child support obligation.

On the other hand, if you voluntarily quit your job to avoid paying child support, or if your monthly expenses have increased because you moved to a new luxury apartment, you probably won't convince a judge to reduce your child support obligation.

How Much Does a Family Law Attorney Cost?

Family law attorneys typically charge by the hour, but their hourly rates differ greatly based on their experience and geographic region. For example a Manhattan attorney with decades of experience will be far more expensive than a lawyer working in rural Wyoming.

Also, some lawyers offer flat fee payment options where the attorney may handle your child support modification case for a set amount, like $1,500 or $2,500. Other lawyers will bill their time hourly so the complexity of your case and how long your case takes will affect how much your child support lawyer costs.

If you have specific questions about reducing child support, contact an experienced family law attorney in your area for advice.

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