Maybe things did not go as you planned in life, and you are now the non-custodial parent of a child. This likely means you and your former partner spent some time in court while a judge ordered you to pay child support, or you agreed to pay your fair share during mediation. Whether you were happy to make the payments or felt oppressed by the obligation, you understand that failing to fulfill your duty can bring serious negative consequences.
Now that your circumstances have changed, the monthly payments don't fit so easily into your budget. Maybe you lost your job, have some unexpected medical expenses or have recently remarried, and these factors make it impossible for you to pay what your court order demands. Is there anything you can do?
Giving it your best effort
The worst thing to do is nothing. If you simply stop making the payments, your problems will begin to compound quickly. Child support is one of those protected obligations from which even bankruptcy can't protect you, and the payments you miss continue to accrue as debt. Therefore, as difficult as it may be, you may want to reach out to your co-parent and see if you can convince him or her to agree to modifying the amount.
Meanwhile, it is important that you continue to pay as much as you can of what the court order demands, and pay on time as often as possible. Until a judge approves a modification, the original order stands, and you are bound to it. To improve your chances of obtaining a modification, family law advocates recommend the following:
- Obtain the services of an attorney who will answer your questions and guide you in taking the most appropriate actions.
- Learn as much as you can about the child support laws of Pennsylvania.
- Keep a log of the circumstances that have caused your financial setback.
- Keep a log of the steps you take to remedy the situation, including searches for new work, taking on additional side jobs and your efforts to keep up with your standing child support order.
- Make an accurate accounting of your household expenses and income to present to the court.
You and your attorney will need to file a request for a modification with the family court in your area. Even if your co-parent has agreed to a change in payment, having the legal approval for such a change can protect you in case your partner changes his or her mind. If you are successful, the court will issue a new child support order, either permanently or long enough for you to get back on your feet.