Life Has Changed — So Should Your Custody Agreement

Life is full of changes, and sometimes, these changes can significantly impact family dynamics and financial responsibilities. If you’ve experienced a significant shift in your circumstances since the last court order for child support or custody, you might wonder if it’s possible to adjust these orders to better reflect your current situation. New Jersey law allows for the modification of child support and custody/parenting time orders under certain conditions, with the goal of ensuring that arrangements continue to meet the children’s needs and best interests.

Criteria for Modifying Child Support Orders

When Are Modifications Permitted? 

Child support orders can be modified if a party can show changed circumstances. A change in circumstances may include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • An increase in the cost of living
  • A permanent and involuntary change in a party’s income
  • A change in a party’s health
  • A modification in the parenting time schedule
  • A change in a child’s needs

When Are Modifications Not Permitted?

Modifications to child support orders are not permitted if t there are temporary changes in circumstances or expected changes that have not yet occurred. For example, if a parent loses his or her job, but finds a new job starting the next month, the change in circumstances (i.e., loss of income) is only temporary and the court is not likely to grant a modification of child support. Additionally, if a parent is voluntarily underemployed or unemployed, the court will not modify child support. For example, if, after losing his or her job, a parent does not make a reasonable effort to obtain a new job, earning a similar income to the prior job, the court will not modify child support. However, voluntary retirement may qualify for a modification of child support if the parent can prove the benefits substantially outweigh the disadvantages to the children.

Can You Receive Retroactive Modification of Child Support?

The court typically does not grant retroactive decrease in child support except from the date the motion for modification was filed. There are limited circumstances in which the court will retroactively decrease child support beyond the filing date, such as when a child is deemed emancipated on a date before the filing date. Retroactive increase of child support is permissible, if the circumstances justifying the increase occurred before the filing.

Criteria for Modifying Custody and Parenting Time

Eligibility for Modification 

Courts in New Jersey have held that the primary consideration when determining any custody or parenting time issue is the child’s best interest, focusing on their safety, happiness, physical, mental, and moral welfare.

The parent seeking a modification of custody or parenting time must establish the following:

  1. There has been a change in circumstances since the prior custody order was entered; and
  2. Because of the change in circumstance, the current custody order is not in the best interest of the child.

When proving a change in circumstances that affects the best interest of a child, the moving party will need to produce evidence demonstrating their arguments in the form of testimony, documentary proof, or expert opinions. Mere dissatisfaction with the existing arrangements does not suffice.

Conclusion

While life’s constant changes can necessitate modifications to child support and custody/parenting arrangements, proving these changes can be challenging. Parents seeking modifications need to present thorough documentation comparing past and current circumstances. In support of a parent’s request of modification of child support, the parent must articulate the basis to justify such modification and include in his or her application, previously filed Case Information Statement and an updated Case Information Statement, together with supporting financial documents, all of which must demonstrate the need for a modification of the child support. For a modification of custody or parenting time, evidence of what is the best interest of the child, along with evidence of the changed circumstances must be presented.

Having the right legal counsel is crucial when navigating these modifications. The Matrimonial & Family Law team at HDRB&B can provide you with the guidance and support you need to ensure that your arrangements serve your family’s best interests. Contact us today.

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