Change in the Amount of Child Support: What Warrants It?

We are frequently asked about child support modification. As you might expect, this question often comes up when one parent or the other loses his or her job, gets promoted, or gets demoted. New Mexico law does provide for modification of child support awards under certain circumstances.

The simplest way to modify the amount of child support is to agree on a new amount with the other parent, then obtain a court order adjudicating that as the new amount. If the other parent will not agree, you must ask the court to intervene.

Modification is discretionary with the court “upon a showing of material and substantial change in circumstances.” The change must have occurred at least one year after the entry of the pre-existing order requiring payment of child support. In general, before a change will be made, the changed circumstances must increase or decrease the proper amount of child support by at least 20%.

The state’s Human Services Department may also request modification, as it is required by law to review orders it enforces at least every three years. During its reviews, the agency has the legal authority to issue subpoenas to obtain relevant financial and other information.

Typical circumstances that may lead to the required 20% change in child support include the following:

  • A medical emergency of the child or of the paying parent;
  • A job loss or change;
  • Significant cost of living increases;
  • A parental disability; or
  • A significant change in the child’s needs.

It is important to note that changes to child support be requested quickly. It can take some time to get a hearing, and a court will not make changes to the support amount retroactively. For the person receiving support, this means that there is no right to receive anything other than the court-ordered amount unless and until that order is modified. This also means that the paying parent is on the hook for the amount stated in the original order unless and until a new order is entered or the child no longer has the right to support.

It is also important to recognize that you cannot quit your job, take a lower-paying job, or intentionally get fired to try to reduce your income and child support amount. New Mexico courts have the power to impute income to you. This means that they can charge you with the amount that you could earn even if you are not currently making that amount of money.

Many dynamics may affect child support in a New Mexico dissolution proceeding. If you are contemplating or currently confronted with a divorce proceeding and have questions about child support, the Lightning Legal Group is willing to help. Please contact us at (505) 247-2390 for a free consultation.

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