The divorce is over and the final orders have been signed. The formerly married couple is now ready to begin their lives as single parents. Then, circumstances change and one or the other of them wants to make changes to the court order concerning child support. Under Georgia law, either parent can petition the court for modification of child support if certain criteria are met.
Criteria for modification of a child support order
According to Georgia law, a parent can only petition the court for a modification of a child support order if there has been “a substantial change in either parent’s income and financial status or the needs of the child.” Some changes in circumstances that qualify include:
- The paying parent involuntary losses his or her job.
- The paying parent becomes too ill to work.
- Either parent receives additional income due to remarriage, promotion at work or even winning the lottery.
- The needs of the child change.
- The child moves in with the paying parent.
- There has been a change in the law governing the calculation of child support.
A petition for modification may only be filed every two years unless certain exceptions apply. The burden is on the parent who files the petition for modification to prove that circumstances have changed to such a substantial degree since the final order was entered that a modification is warranted. If the court agrees the evidence supports the request for modification, and that the modification is in the best interest of the child, it will issue an official and binding court order.
When paying parents lose their job or have income reduction
If paying parents involuntarily lose their jobs, or suffer a 25 percent reduction in income, a petition for modification can be immediately filed even if it has not been two years since a previous modification request. The court may make a temporary order reducing the amount of child support until a full hearing can take place.
Informal agreements are not binding
Ex-spouses who are co-parenting sometimes enter into informal agreements concerning modification of child support without court involvement. Such agreements are not binding and have no legal effect unless they are filed with the court and signed by the judge. This can create problems for either parent. If the receiving parent informally agrees to a reduction in child support payments, that parent can still go the court and ask for the original order to be enforced. If the paying parent agrees to increase the amount and then does not do so, since the increase was not ordered by the court, there is no way for the receiving parent to enforce it.
Attorney fees and court costs
Under the Georgia Family Code, the court has the discretion to award attorney fees and other costs of litigation to the prevailing party if the court determines that such an order would be in the “interests of justice.”
Whether you are a custodial or noncustodial parent, an experienced family law attorney can assist you with filing a petition for modification of a child support order or assist you in challenging a request for modification.