Do you have questions about how much child support you are receiving? It’s not unusual for life or financial circumstances to change for you and your ex-spouse, even as soon as a year after a divorce has been finalized. Perhaps you found out that your ex got a new job or promotion, or got a raise or a large bonus. Now you’re wondering if you should ask for more child support. 

If your spouse’s income has changed, don’t jump to conclusions about receiving increased child support. Before you hurry off to see a judge and ask for a modification of support, there are several factors to be considered. Here are a few things to think about. 

Don’t Make Assumptions About Receiving an Increase in Support 

Calculations for child support are complex and it’s not easy to tell at a glance what will make the support amount go up or down. An increase in the support provider’s salary isn’t an automatic trigger for increased support. If the salary increase is accompanied by higher health insurance premiums, for example, or higher union dues or mandatory retirement contributions, an increase in support may not be justified. 

Has Your Income Changed? 

If your income has increased as well, that will be a factor. Changes in your financial situation that aren’t immediately obvious as relevant to your support amount may also have an effect. If, for instance, you purchased a home since the divorce, the “write offs” you have because of property tax and interest deductions might result in your having less taxable income, and that might reduce your support amount. The way tax implications affect support guidelines are not always clear on the surface. 

The Online Child Support Calculator Might Help, But It Might Not 

If you’re hoping to get an immediate idea of how much more you might be able to get in child support, you might try using the online child support calculator on the Department of Child Support Services website. However, using that program can be tricky and if you’re not extremely familiar with how it works, you’ll find there is some margin for error. For example, if your ex has a Married Filing Jointly tax status and you add a new spouse income to the other party, that could actually decrease your support amount! You really have to know what you’re doing to get reliable results.  

To get an accurate determination about a potential support increase, the best thing to do is ask your family law attorney to run the numbers on the child support calculator. 

Changes to the Timeshare Might Impact the Support Amount 

Changes to the timeshare (the time the children spend with the other parent) can affect the support amount. For example, let’s say your child is now spending more overnights with the paying partner since the divorce. If you revisit the child support amount, you may find the amount is decreased instead of increased. 

If this is true in your situation, you may think that because the other parent is alienating the child from you or the child is asking to spend more time with them, it’s not your fault that the timeshare has changed. When clients share things like this with me, I’m sympathetic, but the court is not. The judge need only consider the statutory authority and the controlling case law. It’s important to keep this in mind if you decide to petition the court for a change in support. 

kids playing soccer

If Your Partner Is Making Some Voluntary Contributions, Going Back to Court Could be Risky 

If the paying parent is picking up the tab for things without being court ordered to do so, you may want to consider whether it’s worth going back to court to ask for more child support. Perhaps they’re paying for things that enrich your children’s lives like extracurricular activities, sports, dance classes, piano lessons, or camps, or buying essentials like clothing or food for your household even though they’re not legally required to do so. If a change in support would make it difficult for you to provide activities like this that your children enjoy, it might not be worth the risk of returning to court. 

What to Do If Your Children Feel Caught in the Middle 

If you do decide to go back to court and request an increase in child support, your kids may feel caught in the middle and ask you questions like, “Why are you taking dad/mom back to court for more money?” If you get backlash like this, it’s tempting to try to defend your position, but it’s better to keep children out of adult issues as much as possible. Try saying something like, “That’s between your dad/mom and me. We will work it out so you don’t have to worry about it.” Understand that kids feel stressed out when there’s conflict between their parents, so do your best to respond to them with compassion, and don’t trouble them with grown-up troubles. 

Addressing Child Support Changes Without Going to Court 

No one enjoys going to court. If you can find a way to approach the topic with your partner in a comfortable setting (perhaps over lunch or a cup of coffee), you may decide that you can look at the numbers together. You might be able to come to an agreement that doesn’t involve court, and perhaps doesn’t even involve changing the support amount. For example, perhaps they would be open to paying for something else that is financially difficult for you to manage—costs for things like yearbooks and graduation expenses can add up quickly! 

If You Can’t Work It Out Privately, You Can Still Reach an Agreement Without Going to Court 

Of course, it may not be a viable option for the two of you to meet together, and if that’s the case, engaging the services of a collaborative attorney or mediator is a great idea. These professionals are trained to help couples reach resolution on difficult issues without involving the courts or turning decision-making over to a judge.  

While working with a collaborative attorney or mediator, the two of you should be able to have a productive conversation about the change of circumstances and decide whether there’s a need to modify the support amount. You might decide to voluntarily exchange your pay stubs so no one has to request this information formally through the court (this is called Request for Completed Income and Expense Declaration, form FL-396). 

The Bottom Line 

Asking the court to revisit a child support order comes with risks. If you can work things out with your partner on your own, that’s often better than asking a judge to make decisions for you. But working with a collaborative attorney or mediator is usually the best route as we are trained to help you communicate effectively and brainstorm ideas for resolving complicated and emotional issues like those around finances and the support of your children. 

Contact us today to schedule a consultation about getting the support of a collaborative attorney or mediator as you address your child support needs and concerns.