Fox Family Lawyers
Cynthia Moseley Fox
Attorney at Law
7751 Carondelet Avenue,
Suite 700
Clayton, Missouri 63105
(St. Louis)

There Are Several Avenues To Explore For Reducing Your Child Support Obligation

I received an email from “Tom” on a topic of interest to many divorced men and women. He wants his child support reduced because his income has declined three straight years since his divorce.


Here’s his situation as he described it:


·        He and his wife divorced in 2003.

·        They have one child.

·        His wife has primary physical custody of the child, but he shares custody under the state’s standard parenting plan.

·        He believes the support amount he pays is high because his wife only works part-time.

·        He can only claim his child as a dependent on his tax return every other year.


This is all I know since I have not had any further communication with Tom. However, Missouri requires that there be a significant and on-going change in circumstances to justify a reduction (or increase) in the support obligation. Typically, judges only modify child support where the new circumstances bring about at least a 20% change in the support required.


With his salary declining yearly since 2003, Tom may qualify for a reduction depending on the degree of the decline and whether he was personally responsible for the drop-off. If he quit a higher paying position for one with less pay, the judge will not be sympathetic. But, if he is a sales person compensated by commissions in an industry going through a downturn, this would likely be seen as beyond his control.


In addition, the information Tom provided suggests other possible opportunities to have his payment reduced.


He mentions that his ex-wife works part-time, suggesting that the court may have considered her reduced wages in apportioning the support obligation between them. Had Tom been my client, I would have argued that the court “impute” to her the value of what she could earn in a full-time position. Typically, the court does that unless there is a health or other good reason why someone can’t or shouldn’t work full-time. For example, if the cost of full-time childcare exceeds the financial benefit of working full-time, imputing full-time wages isn’t justified.


Where justified, though, imputing full-time pay to a part-time worker effectively shifts a portion of the support obligation to that parent on the assumption that any parent able to work full-time should do so to pick up their “fair share” of the child rearing costs.


A second area for exploration is to see if Tom was given a “10% custody adjustment” on his child support obligation. Although his former spouse has primary physical custody, he is entitled to this adjustment so long as he is executing all of his time with the child under the parenting plan set at trial.


To illustrate the possible impact of all these factors on Tom’s payment, I have assumed certain “facts” conforming to what Tom wrote, as follows: 1.) Tom’s wages declined from $3600/month in 2003 to $2500 in 2006. 2.) The court used part-time wages of $1750/month for his “ex” in calculating the original support order, but can now be convinced to impute $2500/month in full-time wages, offsetting that slightly with $100 of extra childcare costs per month. 3.) Tom is awarded the 10% custody adjustment not included in the original assessment.


The cumulative effect reduces Tom’s monthly payment from $623 to $442, a decrease of 29%, easily exceeding the 20% change judges look for.


Of course, it’s easy to win cases when you make up your own set of facts. Even so, the one thing I can’t do is provide Tom the right to claim his child as a dependent every year on his tax return. This deduction goes automatically to the parent with primary physical custody and it appears that his former mate has already provided him a better deal than the law requires.