Is Modifying Child Support Something I Need a Lawyer To Do?
Written by: Megan Dell
Child support can be established almost immediately after a child is born, and the obligation generally continues until the child turns 18 and graduates from high school, whichever occurs later pursuant to S.C. Code Ann. Section 63-3-530(A)(17).
As we have previously described, child support is based upon:
- The number of children
- Custody and visitation arrangements
- Each parent’s gross income
- Alimony paid between the parents
- Any alimony or child support obligation the parents have (from a different relationship)
- The number of children living with each parent
- Health insurance premiums for the children
- Extraordinary medical expenses for the children
- Work-related childcare costs
Because a child support obligation continues for such a long period of time, it is reasonable to consider whether modification of the child support amount is appropriate at some time before a child is emancipated.
When can the Family Court modify child support?
In accordance with S.C. Code Ann. Section 63-17-320, the Family Court maintains jurisdiction to modify an award of child support. However, doing so requires showing an unanticipated change of circumstances substantially or materially affecting the family’s finances has occurred.
1 Change of Circumstances Must Be Unanticipated
When seeking to modify a child support obligation, you cannot rely on a change in circumstances that was known and expected when the original child support amount was established.
For example, in Thornton v. Thornton, 294 S.C. 512 (Ct. App. 1988), a request to increase a child support obligation due to the cost of braces was denied because the parties knew the child would need braces when the original child support order was entered. In Hawkins v. Hawkins, 403 S.C. 228 (Ct. App. 2013), the father’s request to reduce his child support obligation was denied because he had been terminated from his employment before agreeing to the child support amount and should have anticipated the potential he would remain unemployed.
Though changes in circumstance are expected to be unanticipated, there are two anticipated changes that frequently support modification of child support, specifically, when a child stops needing full-time childcare (such that the parents’ work-related childcare expense is significantly reduced) and when one child is emancipated but other children remain minors.
2 Change of Circumstances Must Be to Either the Child’s Needs or the Parents’ Finances
A modification of child support requires a proper showing of a change in either the child’s needs or the supporting parent’s financial ability. Moseley v. Mosier, 279 S.C. 348 (1983).
Examples of changes to a child’s needs being used to support a modification of child support include increased extraordinary medical expenses, the need for orthodontic work, and the need to obtain psychiatric care for a child’s mental condition.
Neither a substantial improvement in one parent’s earning capacity, nor a reduction in earning power by the other parent, will necessarily result in modification of a child support obligation.
3 Change of Circumstances Must Be Substantial or Material
Generally, the change in circumstances must be either substantial or material to justify modification of a child support obligation. Calvert v. Calvert, 287 S.C. 130 (Ct. App. 1985). This tends to mean the expenses related to the child’s needs either significantly increase (or decrease), or the parents’ financial circumstances have markedly changed.
An additional basis for modifying child support occurs when there is a meaningful change in the custody and visitation schedule, such that the time the children spends with each parent changes.
Decreasing Child Support is Harder than Increasing It
A decrease in the income of the parent paying child support does not justify a reduction in the child support obligation unless the parent paying child support can prove they can no longer make the support payments.
The Family Court is much more likely to increase a child support obligation than it is to decrease it, primarily because the Court does not want children to be negatively impacted.
In contrast, “[i]f both parents’ incomes increase disproportionately so that a recalculation of child support…would result in a significant change in the parents’ relative child support obligations, the child support order should be modified.” Stucky, R., Marital Litigation in South Carolina (4th ed.).
How A Lawyer Can Help Your Child Support Modification Case
An experienced Family Court lawyer understands how the law can be applied to the specific facts of your case. They can also help you collect evidence to show the change of circumstances necessary for the Family Court to award you a modification of child support.
Schedule a consultation with one of the attorneys of Dell Family Law to learn more about whether a child support modification is appropriate for your circumstances.