Child support is a necessary part of the divorce process for parents throughout Columbia, MO. However, what happens when a paying parent can no longer afford their child support payments due to job loss, reduced income, or unexpected illness? If you currently pay child support or might need to start paying it in the near future, it’s important to know what this responsibility entails and what to do if you are unable to meet your obligations due to forces beyond your control.
Your first step when you face uncertainty about your child support responsibilities should be to speak with your Columbia, MO divorce attorney. Your legal representative can provide you with advice specific to your unique situation. They will help you through the legal motions you will need to complete to reduce or end your child support obligation or, at the very least, help you avoid the penalties for nonpayment.
Options When You Can’t Afford Child Support
If you can’t afford your child support payments, a Columbia MO divorce lawyer can help you determine the best way to adjust your current child support agreement. Unlike other civil law matters, family law matters such as divorces allow those involved to revisit the courtroom after their judgments are finalized to revisit specific details about their divorces. One of the most common reasons for these post-judgment motions to come about is child support renegotiation.
Either spouse has the right to seek a post-judgment motion if their circumstances change following divorce. For example, if either spouse has a significant change in income, this has a material bearing on their divorce agreement and therefore qualifies as grounds for a post-judgment motion.
Some of the same factors that likely came into play during your divorce proceedings will likely come up in child support renegotiation, such as medical status and income level. Some of the most common justifications for post-judgment motions on child support include:
- Change in income or employment. The payer may need to produce documented evidence such as pay stubs, bank records, credit statements, and other paperwork to prove they are unable to continue making their monthly required payment.
- Contested paternity. If the paying spouse is a father who contests his paternity over the children covered by the child support agreement, he may be able to justify the cancellation of the support agreement. However, he must produce material evidence that he is not the father, such as a paternity test. The court may require a paternity test in some child support determinations.
- Severe medical issue. If the payer becomes unable to work and earn money due to an unforeseen medical problem, this may also become grounds for termination of child support.
- Change in living expenses. If utility costs in your area recently rose, your landlord increased your rent, or some other change caused a significant impact on your monthly finances, you can petition for adjustment of your child support rate.
If something along these lines occurred in your life, your Columbia, MO divorce attorney can help you prove that you can no longer meet your child support obligations. In some cases, the court may allow a temporary reprieve from child support payments until the payer’s situation stabilizes, or the court may order a reduction in the payment amount. In extreme cases, such as the payer’s development of a permanent disability, child support payments could be terminated entirely.
Penalties for Nonpayment of Child Support
If you can’t afford your child support obligation, it is necessary to take appropriate legal action as soon as possible to avoid the penalties for nonpayment of child support. For example, you could face significant fines or even jail time, depending on the amount of support you currently owe. The longer you wait, the worse things will look for you when a judge finally reviews the situation. Nonpayment of child support could lead to summary judgment against you, seizure of your personal property, and even wage garnishment in some cases.
If you have a child custody agreement with your co-parent, then you may lose visitation and parenting time if you fail to make your child support payments. If you have a legitimate legal reason for not continuing child support payments, you must go through the process of filing a post-judgment motion. Such a judgment will protect you from jeopardizing whatever custody or visitation rights you already have.
For your own personal protection, it is imperative to have a court order that modifies your child support agreement before you stop making payments, if at all possible. It is very likely that even if a post-judgment motion is approved, you will still be liable for the child support you owed before the motion’s approval.
The Post-Judgment Motion Process
To proceed with a post-judgment motion concerning child support, either spouse must begin the process by filing a post-judgment motion with the local court. In most cases, the entire post-judgment motion process will take up to 90 days, depending on the complexity of the motion and the completeness of the materials submitted for consideration.
Once a judge has accepted a post-judgment motion, the parties involved will likely have one or more hearings to discuss the elements of the proposed change, and then the judge will deliver a ruling. In some cases, nonpayment of child support could be forgiven retroactively if an acceptable reason is given for the nonpayment. However, in most cases, post-judgment motions take effect the day they are approved and do not apply retroactively.
Finding Legal Counsel
If you are having financial trouble and cannot afford your child support payments, then you may have trouble affording legal representation, too. Many nonprofit legal organizations can assist an individual who is experiencing economic hardship with their post-judgment motions, so consider visiting with one of these service providers if you cannot afford a Columbia, MO divorce attorney.
If you have already established a rapport with a private attorney, it is generally best to try and stick with them during future proceedings regarding post-judgment motions since they know your case well. If you have not yet retained legal counsel, it may be worth speaking with an experienced Columbia, MO divorce lawyer about your inability to pay child support and your legal options for adjusting your divorce agreement.