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When is a "Change of Circumstances" Sufficient to Warrant Modification of Child Support?

Although New Jersey courts take very seriously the duty to enforce child support orders, it’s important to note these orders are not set in stone. A parent can petition the family court to modify child support obligations (either seeking more or asking to pay less), but he or she must show a change in financial circumstances which warrants a modification to the existing child support order. A judge has the discretion to decide whether a parent’s situation meets this criteria based upon the facts of the particular case.

While there is no New Jersey statute that defines exactly what qualifies or doesn’t as a change in circumstances, there is case law that reveals how state courts have ruled on the issue. One such opinion was recently issued by Appellate Division of the Superior Court. In the case of Stephens v. Pickett, a father asked the court to modify his child support immediately after he was laid off from his job. The family court granted his motion and reduced his child support obligation by more than half. The mother then appealed this ruling. On appeal, the Appellate Division reversed the family court’s decision, finding that the father had not proven he had a change in circumstances. Instead, he immediately filed for a modification of his child support before even attempting to secure another job at similar wages. At that point, the Appellate Division opined, there was no reason to believe that the father’s change in financial circumstances was “anything but temporary.”

How a New Jersey Child Support Attorney Can Help Establish - or Defend Against - a Change in Circumstances

Because the determination of whether a parent has experienced a change in circumstances is left to an individual judge to determine on a case-by-case basis, it can be a somewhat subjective finding. Nonetheless, an attorney who is experienced in litigating child support cases will be able to find the facts and make the arguments which best support a parent’s specific case. A parent who wants to reduce his or her child support obligation must present a strong case that a change in circumstances has occurred. This requires proof of a change that is both significant and long-lasting. An attorney will also highlight those facts which either demonstrate that the change was beyond the parent’s control, or that the parent has made reasonable efforts to combat the change. While this is not required by New Jersey child support statutes, these are facts which strengthen a case, and make a family court judge more likely to find that a change in circumstances exists.

A parent may also be forced to defend against the other parent’s claims of a change in circumstances. In this case, an attorney will highlight those facts which indicate that the change is temporary, or insignificant in proportion to the parent’s overall income. The attorney might also conduct investigation into the true nature of the parent’s financial circumstances. It is not uncommon for a parent to tell a court that they are impoverished while at the same time concealing valuable assets or lavish spending habits. This, too, can enable a Somerset County child support lawyer to defend against claims of changed financial circumstances.

If you have questions about a New Jersey child support order, contact Somerset County child support attorneys at Rozin-Golinder Law LLC by calling (732) 810-0034.

Additional Resources: Lamont D. Stephens v. Ivonne Pickett, Decided December 14, 2017, Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division

More Blog Entries: New Jersey Child Custody Modification Requires Substantial Change in Circumstance, October 17, 2017, New Jersey Family Law Attorney Blog

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