Many of my clients ask me how they can lower their monthly child support payments.  Modification of child support payments whether temporary or permanent, may only be realized when one of the parents seeks modification of the existing child support order.  In Illinois, you have to start with filing a petition to modify child support.  In addition, you must complete a financial affidavit setting forth your new income and expenses.

A parent seeking to reduce their child support obligation must show a material or substantial change in circumstances in order to justify the modification.  Unemployment, illness, physical or mental disability, old age, emancipation of a child, or other changes in circumstances may be sufficient reasons for reduction of child support payments.  However, if any adverse changes in employment are voluntary or due to bad faith, then the modification will most likely be disallowed.  Further, the change has to be material, substantial, and continuing.  Here in Illinois, you are entitled to seek a modification of your support based on a substantial change in circumstances, which, if financial, is typically viewed as a 20% change in your gross income, but possibly less for lower-income earners.  

If you are unemployed and can demonstrate that you are not able to secure employment, despite actively searching, a court may grant you a reduction or at least an abatement.  However, voluntary unemployment or underemployment will not entitle an individual to a modification.  That said, a voluntary change in occupation or employment may constitute a material change in circumstances if the court deems the action was made in good faith.  Here in Illinois, a parent who voluntarily decided to attend law school, a decision that lead to a reduction in income, was granted a modification.  Coons v. Wilder, 93 Ill. App. 3d 127, 133 (1981).

If you seek a modification due to changed financial circumstances related to a disabling condition or illness, you will most likely have to present documentation setting forth the illness or disability.  In case of a partial disability, one may still have to demonstrate that he or she is incapable of finding or retaining employment.  Even a total disability may not be sufficient to obtain the modification.  In a recent Illinois case, a parent was not eligible for a reduction of his child support obligation, after a car accident left him permanently and totally disabled because his net income from disability benefits exceeded his income from prior to the accident, when he was employed.  In re Marriage of Rash & King, 406 Ill. App. 3d 381, 388-89 (2010).

It is best to consult with a lawyer to help with the child support modification process, which is generally cumbersome for those opting to go it without counsel.  

Thomas T. Field, Family Law Partner