In today’s turbulent economic climate, where job losses or reductions in income are frequent, it is critical to immediately deal with a child support order upon any significant change in income. Failure to act quickly can lead to an even greater financial disaster. Here’s why:
- In Missouri, a child support order, regardless of whether it is administrative (Family Support Division “FSD”) or judicial (through the Courts), remains in effect until modified. This means that even if income is reduced or lost, the obligor is liable for the child support under the order, regardless of income, until a formal modification proceeding takes place.
- It is critical to file a motion to modify immediately upon an income change as the Court only has jurisdiction to go back and adjust child support back to the date of filing. Once it is filed, the obligor can then seek temporary immediate relief from the original order, and avoid the accumulation of child support arrearages.
- Failure to modify quickly can lead to the accumulation of child support arrearages that cannot be erased, which in turn can result in civil contempt, criminal non-support, suspension of driver licenses, interception of income tax refunds, additional payments to cover the past due child support, and other unpleasant results.
- It is not required that a person wait three years to modify the child support order, even if it is an administrative order. That is just the time interval in which the FSD may, on its own, review an order for modification. A child support order is modifiable at any time by either party.
- It is always better to consult an attorney for a judicial modification rather than going to the FSD for an administrative modification. The court has power over the FSD and can modify any administrative or judicial order much more quickly, and can issue temporary orders for relief.
- Once a judicial motion to modify is filed, even if the obligor stops paying child support or reduces the amount paid, the party will avoid contempt charges and administrative enforcement issues, and the Court can sort out what the new child support amount should be and adjust it accordingly back to the date the motion was filed. This may result in some child support arrearages, but nowhere near what there could be without the modification on file. At this stage of the game, damage control is crucial.
- The modification action can result in attorney fees and case costs, but those typically are minimal in comparison to the savings in child support, and are almost always a wise investment.
- Care should always be taken, however, before engaging in a child support modification, and it is not a good idea to do so without consulting an attorney. Modification cases can be full of possible land mines, so care and experience are required to keep a bad situation from getting worse.