What creates a child support dispute? What can you do?

Last updated on April 8, 2021

If you’re not divorced with children, you probably think of a child support dispute as one of two situations: where the parents are in the middle of a divorce and can’t agree on how much child support should be paid, or where one parent isn’t making their child support payments.

The media tends to focus on stories about celebrities and “deadbeats,” but the experience of most parents is quite different. In most cases, both parents do want to provide appropriate financial support for their children, and many parents spend far more on their children than their child support orders reflect. There may be some wrangling during the divorce about the exact amount, but after the order is settled, the vast majority of parents pay their child support as ordered and on time.

That being said, post-divorce child support disputes do arise, and they often involve disagreements about how the parent receiving the child support is spending it.

Father who agreed to higher child support now threatens to reduce it

A recent article by Lee Block, author of The Post-Divorce Chronicles and a non-lawyer “post-divorce consultant” illuminates one such dispute. Block’s client “Ms. X” was finding out just how frustrating it can be to become involved in a child support dispute with an ex.

Ms. X works, but her job only pays slightly more than the cost of daycare. Her ex-husband, Mr. X, has a high-paying job and owns three homes. At the time of the divorce, before their children entered school, Mr. X agreed to a higher level of support than was required by their state’s child support guidelines. Ms. X was given sole authority over issues such as where the children would attend school.

Over time, the cost of raising Ms. X’s children has gone up, and even the enhanced level of child support no longer covers the cost of essentials. As a result, Ms. X’s new husband has been contributing thousands of dollars every month.

The children had been in private school, but the family has recently moved to an area with a sought-after public school. Although she has the authority to change her children’s school, Ms. X brought the subject up with Mr. X.

Apparently, he hit the roof. He told her that he doesn’t care which school the children attend, but that if she moved them to public school he would no longer be willing to pay more than the state-mandated minimum child support.

Can he do that? Well, it depends. If the higher level of child support Mr. X agreed to was made into a court order, he would have to go to court to request a modification of child support. In most states, courts require there to have been a substantial change in circumstances, and there is no guarantee a family court would agree to reduce his obligation in this case.

However, if the agreement that Mr. X would pay higher child support was a verbal agreement between the parents, he probably can change his mind. If she were to take him to court and attempt to collect the rest, she would have very little chance of collecting more than the court-ordered amount.

If you are considering making an agreement with your children’s other parent, even after your divorce is final, always get legal advice.

Source: Huffington Post, “Post-Divorce Advice: Child Support,” Lee Block, January 11, 2011

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