Is it time to get a family lawyer involved? – A scenario involving child support

Despite our best efforts, family disagreements can sometimes evolve into full blown legal disputes. For those involved, it’s often hard to take a step back from the issue and figure out ways forward. A solicitor specialising in areas of family law may be able to help you deconstruct the issue and identify your options.  Here is just one situation in which a family lawyer may be valuable:

Paying Child Support

Michael paid his former wife, Sarah, $400 a month to support their 4 year old daughter. When Michael was laid off, he called Sarah to arrange a change in his child support payments. He explained that, due to the layoff, he could not afford to pay $400 to which Sarah responded, “Okay. Pay $100 for now”. Six months later, Michael found another job and raised his support payments back to $400. During this time, he had made 6 payments of $100. Two weeks after starting at the new job Sarah called and told Michael she expected him to pay the $1,800 he had not paid during the layoff. Michael replied that he did not owe any money because they had agreed to the child support reduction during his layoff. Sarah disagreed, claiming she had not given up the right to $400 a month but had merely permitted Michael to defer full payment until he was rehired. When Michael refused to pay, Sarah took him to court.

Unfortunately this type of scenario is all too common. Many different scenarios can create changed circumstances which would affect the amount of child payment required. For example, if the paying parent experiences a large decrease in income, the court can order the child support reduced. Or, if the child’s needs grow, such as if the child becomes ill or disabled, the amount of support can be raised. Child support payments may be modified at a parent’s request or in the event of a change in circumstances but these modifications will not happen automatically. One of the parents must request the change by a formal motion to the court.

In the case involving Michael and Sarah, the judge ruled that the evidence did not support Michael’s claim that he was excused from the $300 per month and he was ordered to pay the outstanding $1,800 in addition to the usual payments of monthly support.  In this case, Michael made the mistake of reaching an informal oral agreement with Sarah to modify his child support payment. The problem with oral agreements is that they are often vaguely worded and the memories or understanding of the parties may often differ. Thus, any agreement by parents to modify child support should be put in writing. It is also a good idea to have a judge sign a court order based on the agreement.

If you become unemployed or have some other extenuating circumstance, it is important you seek legal advice and have your child support amount modified. Only the court can change a mandated child support payment, so any modification would have to be submitted to a judge. If both spouses agree, it is usually a pretty simple process. Where disagreement arises, the request will need to be submitted a family law solicitor for review.

Child support is a topic which tends to divide opinions. No separation is easy but understanding your rights and responsibilities involving child support payments can be.  As Brisbane’s Family Law Specialists, Rostron Carlyle can help you understand family law matters such as child support, child custody, visitation and alimony. Their dedicated team of family law solicitors can answer all your questions and help you avoid situations like the one mentioned above.

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