Child support laws are complex and often change over time. The court does not look kindly on parents that make mistakes when it comes to providing for the needs of their children, meaning that even an honest mistake regarding your child support payments can affect your case in the future. Navigating the system can be confusing, not to mention emotionally draining, so we’ve narrowed down the six most common child support mistakes for you and provided some great ways that you can avoid them.
Not hiring a Family Law Attorney
The best way to protect yourself and the interests of your children is to have an attorney specializing in family law on your side. They will provide expert counsel in navigating both the court system and the child support requirements. They can also protect you when a contentious ex wants to come after you for an amount that is unreasonable or inappropriate for your situation. If they have engaged a lawyer and you haven’t, then you will be in over your head and will likely be unable to successfully advocate for yourself to ensure that your child support payments are fair.
Even if you have an agreeable relationship with your ex, hiring a lawyer will help you better understand your responsibilities and avoid pitfalls that might negatively affect your case.
Lying About Your Income
Failing to report your income, whether intentionally to reduce your monthly payments or accidentally neglecting to report a side gig, is going to damage your credibility and negatively affect your case. Whether you intended to withhold income information or not, the court will not look favorably on you and the perception will be that you intentionally lied about your income.
The consequences of this are severe. It can affect your case for custody, incur a fine, leave you in contempt of court, and cause you to have to pay child support arrears with interest. It is always in your favor to be upfront with your lawyer and report your income accurately to the court.
Failing to Report Income Changes
Child support is not automatically adjusted when you have a change in income. It is your responsibility to report those changes promptly. Whether you are seeing an increase or decrease in income, you are in charge of reporting it.
If you’ve had a significant decrease in income, reporting promptly allows the changes to be made promptly. This ensures your income is protected while still providing a fair amount of support to your children.
In the case of an increase, it is also important to report it right away. If you fail to do so, your ex could come after you and try to create a case against you for failure to provide for your children’s needs in accordance with your income. When it comes to income, these kinds of child support mistakes are easy to make. But they’ll get you in serious trouble. Be diligent in communicating clearly and immediately about all changes in income.
Terminating payment when your child reaches 18
It is a common misconception that when a child reaches 18 or turns the age of emancipation, child support payments can be automatically dropped. Child support agreements can extend through the years your child is in college, or further if your child requires extensive care resulting from mental or physical disability. Regardless of the specifics in your particular situation, it’s never a good idea to stop making payments abruptly. This can work against you and can give your ex a reason to take you back to court.
Because every child support agreement and parenting plan is different, your best course of action is to check in with your lawyer prior to your child becoming an adult in the eyes of the state.
Assuming that quitting a job or receiving unemployment will terminate child support
Don’t assume that unemployment will change the terms of your child support order. The court determines your child support amount based on your earning potential, whether or not you are employed. So, don’t make the mistake of thinking that quitting your job means you won’t be responsible to support your child financially.
If you are in a situation where you have been suddenly or unexpectedly terminated, you can file your income change and see if you can get your payment temporarily reduced while you look for a job. But again, the responsibility is on you to reach out to a lawyer and file your information promptly.
Alternate Payment Arrangements
When there is a child support agreement in place, it will include court-approved ways to issue child support to your ex. If you have divorced on friendly terms, or you feel compassionate about their situation and want to make it easier on them, you may be tempted to pay in a way that is most convenient between the two of you. But this can hurt you in the long run, particularly if your relationship with your ex turns sour.
Following a court-approved payment plan protects your interests while ensuring that your children are provided for. With an alternate payment route, you risk a bitter ex trying to turn the situation against you by demonstrating that you haven’t paid child support at all. For example, if you’ve been handing over an envelope of cash every month after spending time with your child, then there is no paper trail that you have, in fact, been responsible for making regular payments.
It is also important to pay the child support amount in full every month. If you have gone through a sudden decrease in income, you should file your income change right away but do not decrease or miss any payments until the court has approved it. Similarly, don’t make a verbal agreement with an ex to pay less than what is mandated, as this will also work against you when the court finds out, or if your ex changes their mind and uses your lower payments against you.
The best way to protect yourself legally, financially and personally from common child support mistakes is to follow the court mandate for payments to the letter, and remember that your support is going toward your child’s care and wellbeing. Don’t let a contentious relationship with your ex cause you to make an emotional decision that will hurt both you and your child in the long run.
Our family lawyers at Torrone Law will provide you with expert, compassionate counsel and fight for you to ensure that your case moves toward a fair and healthy resolution. Our lawyers are always available for a free consultation.