Whether you and your partner are going through a divorce or simply splitting up, one critical thing you need to figure out is child support. Of course, it's important that the child is cared for and that you and your former partner clearly understand the arrangement. However, sometimes the arrangement will need changing, depending on extraneous circumstances. Read on to learn how to modify child support agreements in Illinois.
Before diving into how to modify child support agreements, you should understand how courts determine childcare in the first place. Courts first determine childcare as a set percentage of a payer's net income, about 20 percent for each child. This amount will increase with each additional child, but it also excludes taxes, health insurance, and other mandated obligations. The standard percentage is 20 percent, but courts can also determine rulings on a case-by-case basis. An additional consideration is that child support payments typically end when the child turns 18, but in special circumstances, the court can extend them, like if the child has a disability.
Child support modifications don't automatically happen when someone loses their job or has a change in income. Additionally, if someone feels they can't pay child support, that does not mean they don't owe any child support. Rather, you must request a new support order with a new support amount in these circumstances.
The law currently requires that a person seeking to change the support amount must state that a "substantial change" has occurred to reduce or increase their child support amount. For example, if someone involuntarily loses their job, if someone has a salary decrease, if the other parent's income increases, or if the child's needs and expenses change. These instances constitute the substantial change needed to modify the established child support agreement.
All the above can help qualify you for a support modification, but there is not much wiggle room beyond that. One key thing of note is that you can qualify if you have an involuntary job loss but not if you quit your job. Similarly, if you move down to part-time or decide to go back to school, you are not entitled to a reduction in child support.
Any reduction in income must be involuntary for you to qualify. Even if your former partner has a new job making more money, it may not be enough to qualify for a child support modification if you also earn more money. The judge must determine these matters. They base their decision on both incomes. Unless both parties' financial circumstances have changed dramatically, it can be hard to guess what the outcome of the modification will be until the judge crunches all the numbers from both parties.
The modifications aren't too complicated, but the process can take around six months to complete. First, both parties will exchange financial statements and financial affidavits. From this point, a judge will calculate a new child support amount and then enter it into a new child support order. This is called a Uniform Order for Support.
This timeline is how things should go, but there are always extenuating circumstances that can prolong the affair. For example, if you attempt to deviate from standard support guidelines or if one party doesn't correctly turn over financial information, the process will go on much longer. The process can also slow down because of busy court calendars, as it will take you much longer to get in front of a judge. As a result, a six-month process can quickly turn into a year or longer.
In the modification process, you can also argue that you are entitled to deviate from the standard guidelines. You'll say that various factors like the needs of the child and your unique experiences qualify you for a special decision. For example, a parent out of state can argue that their child support obligation should go down since they are paying travel costs to exercise their rights as parents. Similarly, if they are in a location with a higher cost of living, they may argue that the child needs more or that they should be required to pay less since it's a more significant percentage of their income.
Another example would be if the child has special needs and requires additional financial support for medicine, therapy, special teaching, etc. Deviations like these are all left up to the judge's discretion. They'll consider them on a case-by-case basis, taking in all the facts surrounding the different parties. At the end of the day, they want what’s best for the child, but they also want it to be fair between you and the other parent.
While you don't necessarily require a lawyer to assist in the modification process, having someone to represent your interests who can better navigate the confusing court system is crucial. Your attorney has information on how the court calculates child support and how you can lower the amount while ensuring the child still receives proper financial care.
For example, a lawyer can help find extenuating circumstances that can lower the monthly child support amount. For example, if you pay for their health insurance, you're entitled to a reduced amount. Similarly, you are entitled to a reduction if you have children from other relationships. Additionally, if you are the one filing to modify the support order, you are entitled to relief retroactive to that filing. Retroactive relief is part of the statute, but you must get it included in the support order, or you'll lose out on the relief.
Lawyers can also help move the process along and ensure that the court and judge all follow the proper timelines and avoid unnecessary delays. An experienced attorney can also help you and the other parent negotiate the agreed modification without taking the matter to a hearing before a judge. Doing this will save everyone time and money. Lawyers can also ensure that your filings and calculations are accurate, keeping you from unfortunate clerical errors.
You can modify your child support agreements in Illinois by following these instructions. The child should always have their basic needs taken care of. If you're the parent paying the child support, you want to ensure you also have enough money to take care of yourself. At Schiller DuCanto & Fleck, we have enough experience to help take care of any child support modifications. We are the best child support lawyers in Illinois and have the expertise necessary to ensure you and your child's interests are taken care of.