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Naperville divorce modification attorneyThere are many different important decisions made during a divorce, and in many cases, one or both parties may be unhappy with the final divorce decree or judgment. Fortunately, these decisions are not necessarily “set in stone.” If things have changed in your life or your former partner’s situation, or if you need to make adjustments to better meet your children’s needs, you may be able to pursue a post-divorce modification. However, you should be sure to understand what can and cannot be changed and the procedures that you will need to follow when doing so.

Allowed Modifications to a Divorce Order

While there are some parts of your divorce agreement or judgment that may be changed, one issue that cannot be updated after divorce is the division of marital property. Even if you believe that this division was unfair or did not take certain factors into account, you will be unable to reopen that issue and change the decisions that were made.

Other decisions, however, may be modified, but to do so, you will need to show that you, your ex-spouse, or your children have experienced or will experience a “substantial change in circumstances.” These changes could include the loss of a job or a promotion or demotion that has affected one party’s income, or it could involve significant changes in a person’s needs or abilities, such as a medical condition that would cause a parent to be unable to provide care for children. It may be possible to seek a modification of the following issues:

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What Does Child Support Pay for in Illinois?Child support payments are required whenever two parents are no longer together, whether it is through divorce or separation. Unlike parental responsibilities, a parent cannot relinquish their financial obligation towards their child while the child is still a minor – and sometimes into adulthood if a parent is ordered to help pay for college. Typically, the parent with a greater share of parenting time will receive child support payments from the other parent because the court assumes that they will be the person in charge of child-related expenses. What can and should child support payments be used for?

How Child Support Should Be Spent

The total child support amount that you and your co-parent are responsible for is how much Illinois estimates it should cost to care for your children, based on the number of children you have and the standard of living you can afford on your incomes. The total is meant to cover basic needs, such as food, shelter, and clothing. You can add other expenses to your total in order to cover healthcare, childcare, and school and extracurricular expenses. It is not a requirement that all of a child support payment be spent directly on the children because there are some expenses that are indirectly tied to the children. For instance, paying rent or a mortgage is related to the children because having children determined the size of the home you are living in.

Are There Any Restrictions on How Someone Uses Child Support?

It would go against the intention of Illinois’ child support law if a parent spent child support money on things that are unrelated to the children, such as:

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Work Stoppage May Require Child Support ModificationsThough much of the U.S. economy has come to a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic, many expenses continue on as normal. For parents who have divorced or separated, child support payments are still necessary. Unfortunately, parents may have increased difficulty paying for child-related expenses if they have lost their jobs or are not receiving pay. You need to immediately talk with a divorce lawyer if your income has been reduced, whether you are the payer of child support or the recipient.

Consequences for Payers

The only way to lawfully reduce the amount of child support you pay to your co-parent is by modifying your child support order in court. Losing your job makes you immediately eligible to modify your child support payments, but the courts may be slow to act on it because they are partially shut down due to the virus outbreak. Once your case is heard, the court will likely calculate a new child support amount based on your current income. Unemployment benefits will count towards that income.

If you are already behind on making child support payments, you now have an added incentive to catch up with the payments if you can. The federal stimulus bill includes a one-time payout of $1,200 for adults who meet the income requirements. However, one of the senators who authored the bill has publicly stated that the payment may be offset in part or in full if the recipient is reported to have missed child support payments.

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Reasons to Contest a Child Support Modification RequestEither parent in a child support agreement is allowed to request a modification to increase or decrease the monthly payments. Co-parents often disagree on whether a modification should be allowed, and the parent who is requesting the modification bears the burden of proving their case. The court will consider the request if three years have passed since the agreement was created or last modified or if there has been a significant change in circumstances for either parent. A parent who claims a reduction in their income can request that their child support payments be reduced or that their co-parent’s payments be increased. However, the court may still reject the modification depending on the circumstances:

  1. Voluntary Unemployment: A parent cannot claim a change of circumstances if they voluntarily quit their job or took a significant pay cut. Even if they involuntarily lost their job, they must make a good faith effort to find new employment within a reasonable amount of time. A parent who is capable of working cannot forgo employment and expect their co-parent to cover the child-related expenses for an indefinite period.
  2. Not a Significant Change: A minor reduction in income does not mean that a parent is no longer capable of making the same child support payments. The court will expect the parent to try to continue paying their share of child support by dipping into their disposable income before it orders the other parent to contribute more child support.
  3. Optional Expenditures: When a parent makes questionable or unnecessary purchases, they may be using money that should have gone towards child support. Using their budget on luxury expenses is not a good reason for a parent to try to modify child support.
  4. Bankruptcy: Filing for bankruptcy is a significant change in financial circumstances but does not necessarily mean that child support payments should be modified. In Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the parent’s monthly income should not change, meaning they can still afford child support. In Chapter 13 bankruptcy, part of the parent’s income is going towards a long-term repayment plan. Child support payments are a priority in the repayment plan, and the court will decide whether the support amount should be modified to accommodate the repayment plan.

Contact a DuPage County Divorce Lawyer

When considering a modification to child support, the most important factor is whether the children’s needs are being met. A Naperville, Illinois, divorce attorney at Calabrese Associates, P.C., will work on your behalf to modify child support payments or contest an unnecessary modification. Schedule a consultation by calling 630-393-3111.

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Remarriage Can Affect Child Support PaymentsParents who divorce are required to create a child support agreement in order to share the cost of child-related expenses. Illinois currently uses an income shares model that determines how much each parent should pay based on their proportionate incomes. If a parent’s income makes up 70 percent of their combined incomes, that parent will pay 70 percent of the child support obligation. Either parent can request a modification of the child support order, based on a significant change of circumstances, such as: 

  • A change in a parent’s income;
  • A change in the expense of raising a child; or
  • A child becoming a nondependent.

In certain situations, child support may be modified when one parent remarries.

Available Income

Illinois will not include the income of a new spouse when calculating a parent’s child support obligation. A stepparent is not required to financially support a child, and combining the incomes of a biological parent and stepparent would effectively force the stepparent to do so. A new spouse could affect a parent’s ability to pay their child support obligation. A parent may claim that a child support obligation is unreasonable if it does not leave them with enough money to pay for their own living expenses. Illinois courts have the discretion to deviate from the child support formula to create affordable payments. Remarriage changes a parent’s available income because spouses will combine their incomes and share their expenses. A new spouse could pay for a parent’s living expenses, freeing the parent’s income for other expenses. In such a situation, the other parent could request that the remarried parent pay child support based on the normal calculation.

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Child Support Needs Adjustments Over TimeThe amount of money needed to raise a child is neither static nor uniform. Different children have different needs, and any of those needs can change as they get older. Yet, child support payments created during a divorce only reflect the financial needs at that time. They cannot predict what the future child support needs will be or any emergency expenses in the present. Divorced parents must be willing to re-examine their child support payments to determine whether the payments are still meeting their children’s needs. They should also have an understanding of how they will pay for unusual expenses that occur.

Child Support Model

Determining the required amount that one parent must pay for child support starts with calculating the parents’ combined financial obligation to the children. The initial amount is based on the parents’ combined incomes and the number of children. Illinois has a table that uses both factors to suggest a combined monthly child support amount from both parents. Parents can add other regular child-related expenses to that monthly total, such as:

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