FindLaw KnowledgeBasePublished: 2009-12-21
Payor Parents Have No Control Over Use of Support Money
California is suffering from some of the worst economic conditions in the country. With soaring unemployment and high home foreclosure rates, many families are finding themselves strapped for cash to pay for the basic necessities, like groceries and rent. With bottom lines becoming tighter and tighter, parents receiving child support have become more dependent on those payments to make ends meet each month.
Conversely, parents required to pay child support may be finding it increasingly difficult in this economy to afford the payments. Worse, they may feel resentful that their money is being used not only to care for their children, but also for the other parent.
Unfortunately, payor parents do not have much if any say in how their child support payments are used once the money leaves their hands. Like the majority of states, California does not require the recipient parent to give an accounting of how the money is spent to the payor parent. Accordingly, child support payments can be used for almost anything that can be considered "necessary" for the child's care and well-being.
In general, basic child support is meant to cover the child's living expenses, including food, shelter, and clothing. Costs for rent, mortgage, utility bills and other household expenses can be justified as helping to provide for the basic care of the child.
The amount of basic child support is calculated with a complex formula that basically relies on each parent's disposable monthly income and the amount of time each parent spends caring for the child. In addition to awarding basic child support, California courts have the discretion to award other add-on support payments for expenses like work-related child care, education and extracurricular activity costs and travel costs associated with visitation and other special needs of the child. In fact, some "add-ons" are mandatory: eg., 1/2 of all work or education-related child care expenses plus 1/2 of all medical and dental expenses not covered by insurance.
Child Support Modifications
Payor parents unhappy with how their support payments are being used will not be able to seek a modification in a support order from the court, without significant evidence the child's needs are not being addressed by the payee parent. More importantly, payor parents who find themselves unable to make their support payments because of a job loss, decrease in income, health issue or other reason should seek a modification of the support order.
In general, a parent must be able to prove that there has been a significant change in circumstances since the original child support order or last modification was entered in order to justify a change in the support amount. Examples of events that may qualify as a significant change in circumstances include:
- Job loss or decrease in income
- New job or increase in income
- Change in child custody
- Child begins living with or spending more time with noncustodial parent (eg., more than an overall 5 percent increase)
- Either parent or child becomes disabled
- Either parent or child develops serious health condition resulting in additional expenses
The court generally will not grant a modification if the parent voluntarily left employment. Either parent may petition the court for a modification. The modification can result in an increase or decrease in support payments.
It is important to remember that a child support obligation never goes away. Any unpaid amounts go into arrears and eventually will have to be repaid with interest. Parents who fail to make their payments may also be penalized by the state. These penalties include:
- Reporting the delinquency to credit bureaus
- Suspending the parent's driver and professional licenses
- Denying the parent's passport
- Placing a lien on the parent's property
- Taking a portion of the parent's state and federal benefit checks, including disability, worker's comp, unemployment and in some cases, Social Security
- Taking the parent's federal and state income tax refund
The amount of child support a parent must pay each month does not automatically decrease just because the parent has lost his or her job or cannot make the payment due to another reason. The parent must alert the court of his or her circumstances and request a modification of the support amount requesting the modification as of the date the motion request is filed. This is the only legal way to lower the support payment and prevent the accumulation of child support arrears.
Contact an Experienced Attorney
If you have lost your job, being laid-off or are experiencing other financial difficulties, it is important to contact the court immediately to request a child support modification. You cannot simply stop making your payments or pay less than is due without penalty.
For more information on child support or seeking a modification of an existing support order, contact an experienced family law attorney today. The lawyer can review your case and explain your legal options.