How to go About Getting a Reduction in Your Spousal and Child Support if the Recession Has Impacted Your Income - A careful inventory of your income and expenses is only a start
by Robert J. Nachshin, Certified Family Law Specialist and Author
Nearly everyone has been hit by this serious recession yet many people don’t know how to reduce their expenses and that includes those expenses related to spousal and child support. Some may believe that once the court has ordered a certain payment amount that amount is set in stone. Not so.
Anyone who encounters a change of circumstance is entitled to move forward to seek a modification from the courts. Some courts base the amount paid out by one party to another on a scale, or “dissometer.” There are many variables that go into the measuring process but ultimately the family law courts have wide discretion in granting a modification. If you think you may be eligible for a reduction in support payments, the following offers a list of tasks you must undertake to assess whether or not you are in position for a modification:
Get Your Paperwork Together: The court will look at the detailed income and expense declarations of both parties during a modification hearing. If you are on a commissioned basis in terms of salary and are now bringing home less because you’re selling less, if you were asked to take a furlough, forego benefits, or cut down on your job-related expense account, those variables are taken into consideration, not just the obvious like a job loss or the fact that you changed jobs, taking one for less pay.
Gather your paperwork back up: If you are making less you have to prove it. That means your paycheck stubs or accounting records (if you’re in business for yourself), have to show the decrease over at least a six-month period of time. Beware the self-employed: “Cooking the books” is not a smart strategy because should you get caught you’ll be in trouble in more than one court! Fraud is punishable by law so be straight up with your records.
Carefully check your ex’s status: You may have thought that only if your ex remarries are you eligible to seek the court’s help in reducing your support because his/her household now enjoys the benefit of second income. Your spouse does not have to be legally married for you to seek relief. If he or she is cohabiting with a significant other, renting their place to a roommate, or you have an inkling or learn that he/she is making more money than when you first agreed on a dollar amount for support, you have the right to know about those changes and they should be presented when you go to court for your modification hearing. Hiding any pertinent details from the court by your ex can spell big trouble for him or her. If they have the right legal counsel that person will advise him/her of that fact.
Check your Cost of Living Increases: Have your expenses increased considerably for any number of reasons? For instance, have your property taxes gone up? Are you now sending your special needs child to a private school? Were you forced to take in an ailing family member? Did your car or medical insurance go up? Are you paying more for your prescriptions, your homeowner association dues, or adjustable rate mortgage? Though some of these expense increases may not seem like much, when you add them up, however, they can reflect a considerable difference in what you were paying when your court order took effect.
If you become disabled in any way: If you have mental or physical problems and are unable to work part time or at all, this is yet another reason to ask the court for relief. Some people may not have thought that a disability of some kind would factor in, but it does. Always remember that what the court cares about is whether your income decreases, your expenses increase or your ex’s income increases in some obvious manner.
Check your jurisdiction’s changes in the law: News of pending or recently-passed legislation affecting family law courts in your region or state are not always on the front page. You can, however, visit various legal Web sites, subscribe to publications that keep you abreast of any legislation that might affect spousal or child support, or ask that your attorney shoot you an email if he or she knows of any dramatic changes that might help you reduce your support payments. Most people don’t think to stay abreast of legislative issues but they occur more often than people think.
Robert J. Nachshin is co-author of the book "I Do, You Do...But Just Sign Here: A Quick and Easy Guide to Cohabitation, Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements." He represents many celebrities in film, television, music and sports. He is best known for the precedent-setting win in the Barry Bonds prenuptial case that was ultimately decided by the California Supreme Court, where he prevailed on Bonds' behalf. For more information, visit www.nldivorce.com.