Child Support Bullets Part 13: Family v. Supreme Courts and Modifications

Baby-Steps-300x195It’s no secret that dealing with issues of family law is tough. Whether you and your ex-partner agree that you’re better off apart or not, separating the lives of two married people or two parents, unmarried or married, can be complicated. The process becomes even more complex when children are involved.

When spouses or parents share a child or children, there are various additional decisions to be made about custody, parenting time, and child support. This bullet point guide aims to answer some more of the questions you may have about child support.

Throughout the course of this most recent blog series, we’ve discussed many aspects of child support and family law. In this edition, we’ll be looking at the circumstances under which a child support order can be modified, and whether the family court can deal with child support at the same time as a divorce.

Family Court and Child Support

The law in New York allows the Supreme or the Family Court to address issues of child support or spousal support for couples seeking a divorce. For a married couple living together, unless it’s clear that the parents are about to be imminently living apart and one will have custody of the child or children as opposed to the other, the family court will usually dismiss the case and suggest that the issues of child custody and child support should be addressed in a matrimonial court.  In other words, the family court does not have jurisdiction over child custody or child support for married people that are living together. Supreme courts in New York deal with matrimonial cases.

  • Matrimonial cases are handled by the Supreme Court. These cases can include divorce and annulment proceedings. Proceedings for legal separation are also sometimes addressed by the Supreme Court.
  • If a married couple is not living together, the family court may have jurisdiction to hear a child support case outside of the divorce case, provided when the family court case is filed there is not a divorce case already proceeding. Likewise, if there isn’t already a matrimonial case pending, spousal support cases may be filed with the family court. This might be true even when spouses continue to live together if there is a claim that the “monied spouse” is not supporting the other.
  • The family court cannot hear newly filed cases for support when cases are still pending with the Supreme court. There is an exception to this rule, however, if the children involved in the support case may become public charges or are receiving public assistance already.
  • Strategizing whether you should take your case to the family court or supreme court can be an important decision when sorting through the issues of a divorce. This is why I offer my clients guidance on which court they may need to attend when requesting various orders and agreements.
  • The family court and supreme courts may be on guard against people that seem to be “forum shopping” wherein a part in a case seems to try filing in various courts to track down the court that will be able to give them the most preferential treatment.

When Can Child Support Agreements be Modified?

Knowing which New York court to ask to consider your case is just one thing that parents may need to think about. You may also find yourself at a point later down the line when you believe that the child support order issued in your case needs to be modified. It is possible to ask the court to modify or change the agreement if it no longer seems fair, but only under certain circumstances.

  • The courts make decisions about child support based on a standard formula, and a consideration of the factors at play in each individual case. The default law for support orders today is that either party may seek a change to a child support order when: a substantial change of circumstances takes place; income changes by 15% or more or three or more years has elapsed.
  • Substantial changes in circumstances that may lead to a modification in child support include differences in the child’s health or other financial needs or changes to overall circumstances that surround the order.
  • For orders that were made prior to the time when the three aforementioned reasons to modify came into effect, child support orders were harder to modify. Courts considered requests for an increase in the child support obligations to another parent when it appears that the needs of the child were not being met by the current order of support, or there has been an unanticipated change in circumstances that made the order in effect not reasonable.
  • As in all issues of family law, the courts are supposed to consider the best interests of the children, but within the constraints of the Child Support Standards Act guidelines. However, it is also the responsibility of the court to ensure that any orders issues are fair and just in the eyes of the law. This means that it is possible to seek changes to an order if you feel that you have a just reason to do so.
  • Arguing for a change to the child support order issued by the court can be complicated without the right assistance. It’s crucial to ensure you have guidance from an informed family law attorney before you begin this process.

If you have any questions about the issues above, you can find further guidance and articles published on this website. You can also reach out to my office to get on our calendar for a free initial consultation about your case lasting up to 30 minutes.

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