Landmines In Child Support Part 1
by Gary Port /
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December 25, 2007
A legal landmine is a mistake that I see people repeatedly make. The mistake is made because the person doesn’t realize he is making it, until it is too late. In New York family law and divorce law, there are several such landmines. In this post I will discuss the landmines in Child Support.
The one I see most frequently is failing to follow a court order of child support. At first blush, that may seem odd. How can some violate a support order and not realize it? Well, unfortunately, all to easily because a lot of people do not understand the nature of a court order.
Here’s how it normally plays out: Father is ordered by a court to pay $1000 a month in support. He does so for a while, then, he loses his job, get sicks or something else happens which makes it tough if not impossible for him to make his support payments. He goes to the mother and explains the situation and she agrees to take less, say $500 a month. They shake on the deal, and he now pays $500 a month, thinking all is good. A while later he gets served with papers for violating the court order. Not only must he pay the full $1000 a month, but he owes arrears on the time he was only paying $500. He’s shocked by the injustice: she agreed to the deal. The judge doesn’t see it that way, and the order for arrears is entered.
The problem that he didn’t understand is that a court order is just that: an order of the court. The mother has no authority to reduce the support. She cannot legally agree to lowering the support. Even if she put it in writing, he would still have to pay the full amount. In New York family and divorce law, once a court order is in place the only person who can modify the order is the judge (or family court support magistrate.) So, even if the parties have an agreement, the custodial parent can walk into divorce or family court and demand payment of the arrears and the court will grant it.
The only way to reduce the support payments is to go back to court and request it. In order to get a reduction, the non-custodial parent must demonstrate that there has been a unforeseeable change in circumstances. The court is very wary of guys claiming reduced income or to have lost their jobs. The court frequently sees guys voluntarily reducing or even hiding income to defeat the court order. However, I’ll get into reductions in another post. For now, the lesson is simple: once the court order is in place, obey it until you get another court order.