1. Agreeing on a Child Support Amount:
In family law cases which involve children and support of children one of the questions that comes up quite often is whether or not the parties to the case can agree on a support figure that is different from what the state guideline calculation come out to be. This can come up in many different parts of the case: one party may offer more time-sharing with the other in exchange for lower child support, a parent may prefer to have the other party contribute to the support of the child in a different manner, or a parent may just be intimidated by the other side and afraid to take the matter before the judge.
It does not matter how the question comes about as the judge presiding over the matter ultimately will decide if the agreement of the parties will become part of a final order or not. Generally, parties may agree to a support amount that is above the guideline amount, but, may not negotiate below that figure. This is because the state views child support as being the right of the child and not that of the parents that they could bargain it away. That being said, many family law judges have signed final judgments that did not include actual child support payments where they were satisfied that the child was being supported in other ways along with a finding that the arrangement was in the best interests of the children involved in the case.
2. Where Do Child Support Cases Originate?
In most parts of the country, many of the state’s child support cases are initiated by the Department of Revenue where over burdened Department of Revenue hearing officers issue child support orders with very little consideration for other options. In many areas of the country a trial on child support before a Department of Revenue hearing officer may only be docketed for a mere fifteen minutes which affords the parties very little time to discuss issues of additional discovery, issues of under employment of a party to the case, in ability to find work, or other alternatives to an actual support payment.
This stands in stark contrast to child support cases that originate in circuit courts in front of family law judges as opposed to state cases before hearing officers. Circuit courts offer a much greater opportunity to conduct proper discovery in addition to greater amounts of time to conduct trials on the facts.
No matter which family law court you are in the support amount is generally going to be ordered pursuant to guidelines which take into account the income of both parents, the amount of overnight time-sharing each parent exercises, child care expenses, and children’s health insurance costs.
3. Modification of Child Support:
While support is always modifiable, such an order may only be entertained upon a sufficient showing of a substantial, material, and unforeseen change in circumstances. This burden is not always an easy one to meet and for this reason litigants in child support cases should use great care when considering a settlement which they feel may not be in the best interests of the children involved in the case.
What litigants in support cases may take from this is that though in most states they may agree as to a child support amount they should consult a legal professional in their jurisdiction about the legal limits that relate to such agreements.
Further, if the state initiates a support action against an individual they should bear in mind that they may have a limited chance to mount a strong defense and that seeking counsel to have the case moved into a circuit court might be a better course of action.
Finally, Litigants in child support cases should never believe that it is no big deal to settle a case under the assumption that “we can just go and modify it anytime”. This is because modifications are not always easy to obtain as there is a legal threshold that all modifications must meet.