Where Do You Turn When Your Child Support is Too High in South Carolina?

It can happen to anyone. One day, you’re sitting comfortably in your midtown office, preparing final reports after completing a big project for a new client.  The next day, you’re fired.

When you get over the rolling tremor of your new status as an unemployed adult, with an ex-spouse and three young kids to support, the next shock can set in:  how do I pay my child support?

Fortunately, South Carolina does provide several different routes for people who have had a “substantial” change of circumstances in their incomes. The problem is, many people try to take the easy way out that seems painless in the short term, but can involve a world of financial harm, even jail, in the longer term.

A lengthy, early conversation with an experienced family law attorney could make the difference between getting sensible adjustment in child support payments after losing a job or another a major life event, or the very real prospect of paying thousands of dollars in unpaid child support arrears and penalties, or even jail time.

Who Qualifies for a Reduction in Child Support?

To get the South Carolina court system to take a request to reduce child support seriously, the non-custodial parent has to show sufficient proof of at least one of several components:

  • Is the change in circumstances “substantial”, of sufficient duration and unforeseen?
  • Does the South Carolina child support calculator suggest that the revised support with your new numbers should be reduced?

In general, South Carolina case law suggests that a payor’s income from all sources must have declined at least 20 percent to merit a possible reduction in child support and be considered “substantial.”This might occur if the non-custodial parent was fired or laid off, suffered a severe cut in pay, or was substantially impaired by a health-related issue.

But if a parent quits, or takes another lower paying position for reasons that a court would find unacceptable, such a change might not be sanctioned by the court.

And even if a payor spouse has reduced income for any reason that at first glance appears “substantial,” other factors in the child support calculator might negate its effect.

For example, if a parent takes a major pay cut, but also no longer has to pay expensive health insurance because three of six children are over the age of 26, and recently had an obligation to pay spousal maintenance stop, there may be an insufficiently “significant” net effect on child support according to the South Carolina Child Support Calculator, even with a cut in pay.

Common Mistakes Payors Make

child support paymentsNon-custodial parents who can no longer afford their child support payments often try to work their way out of a financial mess in ways that only hurts them.

Some decide to just pack up their bags and leave the state, never realizing that the interstate system of skip-tracing, child support orders and collection has become much more swift and effective over the years.

Others try and work out informal agreements with their ex-spouses, and sometimes these temporary arrangements even work. But just as often, these well-intentioned negotiating spouses end up bickering back in court within six months, with additional child support arrears and stiff penalties for non-payment added onto what they already owed.

And then there are those parents who just figure that, as long as they are looking for a job in good faith, or trying to get back on their feet after an injury, they don’t have to do anything but just start paying a lower amount they can afford.

Maybe they figure that their ex won’t have the money to go back to court to compel payment, or that there is a “soft spot” in the custodial parent’s heart who is used to receiving a certain monthly dollar figure, and who now receives less.

But you know the likely outcome of this behavior. This is a recipe for legal disaster, which could find the non-custodial spouse owing thousands of dollars in child support arrears and penalties, or worse. Additionally,  CSE might get involved which could lead to the loss of a state professional license, driver’s license restrictions, and even curtailment of international travel by the government.

What are the Actual Routes I Can Use to Reduce Child Support?

Getting child support reduced in South Carolina often depends upon how the order was entered in the first place. If an order was entered through the South Carolina Dept. of Social Services Child Support Enforcement division, any new order with a revised child support amount should be entered through the administrative process.

The suggested process to accomplish this starts with the payor spouse notifying CSE about the change in circumstances. Then, they forward copies of attachments and other documents to CSE that would support a “substantial” change (such as a letter of termination.)

However, trying to work directly with CSE to get support reduced as a non-custodial payor spouse has in the past shown sometimes inconsistent results. Therefore, a spouse who no longer can afford to pay child support entered through an administrative order may have to file a petition directly with the court.

If the support order was a private order entered in South Carolina family court,  and not administratively, a request for reduction of support will have to go through the Family Court system. There, the payor spouse will have to prove by a “preponderance” of the evidence that the change in circumstances is substantial and unforeseen.

Reasons to Reduce Child Support

All of those factors that are included in S.C. statutory list of child support considerations become reasons that the court might find that child support should be reduced. These factors include but are not limited to:

  1. Change in non-custodial parent’s gross income (due to job loss, injury or disease, etc.).
  2. Change in the non-custodial parent’s income as a percentage of the two incomes added together.
  3. Change in deductions from income for non-custodial parent.
  4. Costs related to other children in the home not covered by order.
  5. Change in healthcare costs for dependent.
  6. Income of the child.
  7. Any other factor the court finds relevant.

The simple fact is that in most states, the judicial system and the local equivalent of the state’s attorney’s offices devotes the lion’s share of its time getting orders put into place, and finding ways to increase child support – not decrease it.

But if a non-custodial parent is persistent, and working with the help of a dedicated family law attorney, an excessively high child support number can often be dropped to an affordable figure, which can lead to financial relief for years to come.