WHEN COUPLES with minor children divorce, the parties often think they are “done” with legal matters related to the divorce once a final judgment is entered. What many people fail to consider is the likelihood of circumstances in their lives and their children’s lives changing over time. One parent may get offered a job in another state—one that pays more money. Another parent may remarry, which can alter his or her financial circumstances. The children, of course, grow up and, as they do, their needs and interests may change.
Life changes such as these may compel the parties to attempt to initiate modifications to their time-sharing and/or child support arrangements, which may mean a trip back to the courthouse. If you think you may need to alter your child’s time-sharing arrangement or have a desire to reduce the child support you pay, here’s what you need to know:
1. Best Interests of the Child. Courts will start any evaluation of a court action involving shared parenting or support of a child with a legal standard known as the “best interests of the child.” This means exactly what it sounds like—are the actions the parties wish to take in the best interest of the child or children at the center of the dispute?
2. Substantial Change in Circumstances. Parents who wish to make changes (modifications) in time-sharing or support agreements can’t just do so on a whim. The party seeking the change must be able to show a “substantial change in circumstances” and that change must be something that was not contemplated or foreseen at the time of the original judgment (or prior judgments). Whether or not the change is “substantial” is not based on the opinions of the two parties. The court will test the assumption and the party asserting this argument will be required to prove their assertion.
3. Right of Either Party to Petition. Either party may petition the court for modification. For example, one parent may have suffered an involuntary job loss and wish to have the child support obligation reduced. There may be a decrease in the cost of daycare as the child ages, thus, one of the parties seeks to reduce support. One party may starting making more money or now have health insurance as a benefit of their employment.
4. Amount of Modification Relevant. Before the court will consider a petition for modification of child support, it will expect to see a difference of at least 15% or $50 a month, whichever is greater, from the original support order.
5. Issues Separate and Distinct. Child support and child custody, though they may have some overlap, are considered to be separate issues under Florida law. Thus, child support may be modified without a modification in time-sharing and vice versa (though a party may petition for modification of both).
Petitions for modification of child support and/or time-sharing are quite common, particularly during times of recession. The issues can be much more complicated than they at first appear to be, and the law in this area is complex. If you think you may need to seek modification of support, we encourage you to give us a call. Sandra Ambrose has more than 30 years experience in family law, having served both as a magistrate and attorney. We welcome the opportunity to discuss the particulars of your case.