Reducing Child Support: When to File?

Have you lost your job so that you can't pay child support? File for a reduction sooner rather than later.
From time to time, parents who pay child support encounter circumstances that reduce their ability to pay child support. Most often, a parent will lose his job and be unable to find another job quickly or at the same rate of pay. Other things can happen, too, such as unexpected medical expenses or an accident that disables a parent.

Generally speaking, the law permits a person to petition a court for a reduction of child support when one of these things happens. But when should the parent file for a reduction? Unfortunately, many parents in these situations wait until they are hauled into court on a contempt charge. It's not too late to ask for a reduction then, but court orders are supposed to be followed until changed. The parent who waits until a contempt hearing to ask for a reduction in child support won't be able to use that motion as a defense to the contempt charge.

Moreover, state law might impose deadlines on how far back a reduction in child support can be made effective. In Texas, for example, Family Code section 156.401(b) states that the court has the power to reduce child support only back to the date a motion for reduction was served on the custodial parent, or the custodial parent voluntarily filed a pleading in the case without being served, whichever is earlier. In other words, the filing date of the motion for reduction does not set how far back the court can provide relief - the motion has to be served, or the custodial parent appear, and then the date is set.

A motion to reduce child support should be filed as soon as a parent knows that he won't be able to pay child support, even if that will not happen until, for example, next month. An early filing provides the greatest opportunity for court relief, plus a parent who files for a reduction is following the procedure to have a court consider his request. Courts like litigants better when they try to follow procedure instead of ignore it.

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