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Seeking modifications in a child support order

Divorced parents in Tennessee may agree that child support can sometimes become difficult for the non-custodial parent. That parent may be unable to meet the court-ordered child support obligations because of "substantial changes" in life's circumstances such as unemployment, remarriage or a physical condition that prevents the supporting parent from earning an income. The wisest option is to seek modifications in the child support order and not have to deal with legal consequences.

In such a situation, the non-custodial parent should act quickly. Unpaid child support is not discharged through bankruptcy and the court generally does not reduce child support retroactively. Therefore, if circumstances in the supporting parent's life changes, the non-custodial parent should understand the court's approach and file a petition seeking modification in the child support order. However, that parent must have an understanding of what courts in Tennessee consider "substantial changes."

Before approaching a court, however, the non-custodial parent may speak with the custodial parent and see if that parent is ready to accept a modification. It is possible that the parent may not reach a mutual agreement with the court; however, considering the emotional and financial toll that a court proceeding can take, settling the matter outside the courtroom is often the best approach. If the parents choose a more formal method, mediators appointed by the state can help parents reach an agreement.

An existing child support arrangement remains in effect until the court issues a new order. Therefore, it is important to make timely payments because delinquency can severely affect a non-custodial parent's success at getting the child support order modified. Even if there are difficulties in fulfilling the financial obligations of a child support order, a non-custodial parent should continue to pay as much as possible and in the manner specified by the child support order. This establishes a non-custodial parent's integrity.

Finally, the court will want to see documented evidence of the non-custodial parent's inability to pay child support before approving a modification request. For example, if a person is unable to make timely payments because of unemployment, documented proof of household income must be presented before the court. Additionally, the supporting parent should also document all efforts made toward finding a new job. Once the court is convinced about the legitimacy of a modification request, it may issue a new child support order.

Source: FindLaw.com, "Child Support Modification Tips," accessed on Sept. 11, 2014

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The Law Office of Steven C. Girsky
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