Child Support Awareness Month

August is National Child Support Awareness Month, and a good reminder to reflect on any statutory or case law updates, changes in your own life that may make modification of any child support amount due appropriate, and whether there are any child support arrearages that need to be taken care of.

Statutory Update. For the first time in over 25 years, the Virginia state legislature has updated the child support guidelines (Virginia Code section 20-108.2). The older version, passed in 1988, provided a table of child support figures using the parents’ combined gross income of up to $10,000 per month; the new version, which went into effect July 1, 2014, increased the table to include child support figures for combined gross incomes of up to $35,000 per month. The legislature also made slight revisions to the child support figures previously provided for the other income levels: for parents earning a combined gross income of under a few thousand dollars per month, the monthly child support figure has likely gone down; for people earning a combined gross income around $5,000 to $10,000 per month the child support guidelines figure has changed very minimally; and for those earning a combined gross income of over $10,000 per month, the child support guideline figure has increased notably. If your child support figure has greatly increased or decreased, you may be able to use the change to the statute as a “material change” and ask the court to change your child support figure to the updated amount.

Child Support Modification. Child support is inherently modifiable for a material change in circumstances warranting a change. A “material change” can include a change in income of either parent, a change in health insurance premium or child care costs, the birth or emancipation of other children, a change in custody or visitation, a change in the child support guidelines, or any combination of the aforementioned. For example, if the payor’s income has decreased, the recipient’s income has increased, and the parents’ combined gross monthly income is over $15,000, there is likely a material change and the court may modify a previous contract or child support order. This month, try to reflect on the time that has passed since the last child support order and determine if there has been a material change that would impact the amount of child support due. Modifications may be retroactive, but only to the date of the filing seeking a modification of support – so if you think your child support amount should be increased or decreased, you should see an attorney about filing a motion for modification sooner rather than later.

Arrearages. A child support order creates a judgment as a matter of law – which means interest automatically accrues each month. Further, even if a child emancipates, any arrearage owed for that child is still due until paid off. In the case of an arrearage, an attorney may bring a suit asking the Court to order garnishment of the payor’s check, revoke any professional license issued by Virginia, or use its powers of contempt to compel compliance with the child support order (up to and including jail). In addition to those remedies, the Department of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE), a state agency, can work directly with the state to suspend a payor’s drivers license, work with the federal government to intercept federal tax returns and use them towards any arrearage(s), and work with their sister agencies in other states in cases where the payor and recipient are not located in the same state. If you are a payor of child support and are behind – you should use this month to reflect on how to pay off the past-due amount and get back on track as soon as possible; if you cannot afford your child support payment, you should see an attorney about whether a modification is possible. If you are the recipient of child support and there is an arrearage, you may want to consult an attorney about the best way to move forward in getting the arrearage paid – whether through an attorney, DCSE, or a combination.