What Happens at a Child Support Modification Hearing?
Although it can be stressful for anyone to have to go to court for a child support dispute, knowing what to expect at the hearing will help you feel more relaxed and confident as you will be mentally and emotionally prepared for what happens. Also, knowing in advance what you need to do and file to support your position on the issue will increase your confidence as well as the likelihood of your success.
In New Jersey, the modification of a child support order requires a court hearing and begins with filing a form by which either party can ask the court to reconsider the current child support arrangements. That form can be found here for married couples. For unmarried couples, that form is found here.
Reasons for a parent to want to change the support arrangements fall under a broad category that the family court calls “changes in circumstances.” The kind of life changes that family judges believe warrant adjustment of child support payments include:
One of the parents experienced a job loss or reduction of work hours;
One of the parents got a better job or more work hours or a raise;
One of the parents got remarried;
The parents have changed the custodial or parenting time arrangement.
A parent might also request a hearing to determine how to share the costs of a younger child’s preschool or daycare, or an older child’s activities such as sports, music, or youth clubs. These types of expenses are not listed in the Child Support Guidelines and are usually not provided for in the initial child support order, therefore a judge must determine how the parties will share these costs as they arise. Usually, the parties pay in proportion to their relative incomes.
Once one of the parents has filed for a child support hearing, the other party will be served with a summons setting forth the date, time, and location of the support modification hearing.
Once a parent has filed for reconsideration of the child support order and the other party has been served with a summons, each of the parties must then file documents proving their current financial status. The parent wishing to modify the child support arrangement must also prepare a statement of reasons for the court.
It is very important that both parties provide whatever documents are needed to support their assertion of their current income and expenses. These documents include the following, among others:
If a parent is requesting a change in child support due to a change in the child custody agreement, that parent will need to provide a copy of that agreement as well. Your attorney will let you know if any other information or documentation is needed.
These questions are all too common: What happens if I don’t respond to the summons? What happens if the other party does not respond to the summons?
A child support modification hearing is a civil, not a criminal, matter, so a warrant for the absent party’s arrest will not be issued. However, if a party does not respond and does not participate in the child support hearing, the court can and will likely grant the other party judgment by default. In short, this means that if you don’t show up, the other side automatically wins.
To defend your rights regarding the child support arrangement, you must respond to the summons, file all of the necessary responsive documents, and appear at the hearing. If you do not, the following may happen:
if you are the party paying child support, these payments can be raised without your input;
If you are the party receiving child support, your payments could be reduced without the judge hearing your side.
Either of these situations can be dire for a parent who can not afford to pay more, or to receive less, in child support payments.
Be warned: If you are behind in your child support payments and fail to show up at the child support modification hearing, the judge may issue a warrant for your arrest. This can wreak havoc with your record and cause problems for you extending far beyond simply paying child support. It is in your and your child’s best interest to fully participate in the child support hearing.
The parties will appear with their attorneys at the time and date specified on the summons, and in the courtroom of the judgewho will preside over the matter. The parent wanting to modify the child support order will present his or her statement of reasons, either personally or through his or her attorney, and the other parent will have the opportunity to respond to that statement. The judge will then review the parties’ documents and determine whether a change is justified.
Failure to convince the judge that a change is necessary means that the child support arrangement will not change. Your attorney can help you appeal this decision if together you think that the judge’s ruling was incorrect, but generally this is the final decision.
If you are wondering how to modify child support without a lawyer, here’s how: visit the NJ Courts’ Self Help Center online and look for the “Couples and Families” category. Click on it. Here you will find all of the forms you need to file for modification of child support, or to respond to a summons for a hearing on child support.
If the forms or the procedure for filing seem too confusing, contact an experienced family law attorney who will help you and make sure everything is filed that needs to be filed, and that everything goes as smoothly as possible for you.
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Katherine K. Wagner, Attorney At Law is located in Somerville, NJ and serves clients in and around Somerville, Raritan, Lyons, Bridgewater, Manville, Zarephath, Neshanic Station, Pluckemin, Whitehouse, Martinsville, Bound Brook, Belle Mead, South Bound Brook, Bedminster, Whitehouse Station, Three Bridges, Liberty Corner, Warren, Middlesex, Somerset, Stanton, Skillman, Blawenburg, Far Hills and Somerset County.
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