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Ask Nancy: Help Me

Dear Nancy:
My ex-wife and I were divorced in 2006 and I was suppose to pay her $1800 a month in child support.  In 2008, when the economy tanked, I was briefly unemployed but  I was able to get another job but for less money.  Also by that time, both my ex-wife and I had remarried-she married a really rich old guy-and I had a new baby.  I asked my ex-wife to find a little kindness in her heart and agree to accept $1000 each month in child support instead of the $1800 and she agreed!  I didn’t want to push my luck with getting her lawyer involved so we did not file anything with the court.
Based on the new agreement between my ex-wife and me, I dutifully paid my $1000 each and every month in child support from 2008 until this past month when my ex-wife filed a contempt action against me!  Apparently, her rich husband dumped her for a newer model and she says she now needs money.  I don’t have it. What do I do?

Help Me

Dear Help Me,

The Georgia courts have repeatedly held that parties may NOT by their private agreement foreclose the court from exercising its judgment as to the question of child support awarded in a divorce decree.  If the parties to a divorce decree agree to a modification of support, they must present their agreement to the court for its approval.

Even if the court finds that you relied in good faith upon your private agreement with your ex-wife, you may be excused from contempt for lack of willful disobedience but you will not be excused from making the payments thereafter.  To “purge” or relieve yourself of sanctions for violating the divorce decree, you will have to pay all arrearages  due under the judgment, either in one lump payment or perhaps through a payment plan.

Going forward, if you still feel like the $1800 in child support is more than you can handle, do remember that a judgment rendered for child support may be modified based on a showing of a change in the income or financial status of either former spouse or in the needs of the child or children.

-Nancy Ghertner

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