Most residents of Georgia who have endured the stress of a divorce proceeding believe that the stress ends when the judge signs the final order, terminating the marriage and resolving issues such as asset division, child custody, child support and alimony. Life, however, does not always cooperate with our expectations. Life changes, such as an accident or illness, loss of a job, or similar events, may convince one ex-spouse that a child support order is unfair. Can the order signed at the end of the trial be modified?
Seeking modification of an existing order
Georgia courts consider two types of orders for modification of an existing child support order: temporary modifications that deal with an emergency situation, such as the child’s sudden illness, or permanent modifications that deal with a permanent change in the situation of one of the parents or the child. Georgia courts provide a significant amount of on-line guidance for parents wishing to avoid the expense of hiring an attorney, but this post will describe situations in which retaining an attorney is by far the better choice.
Examples of temporary changes in circumstances include a medical emergency, inability to maintain level of support payments due to illness or loss of job or temporary economic hardship. Permanent changes in circumstance include the receipt by one parent of additional income from remarriage, changes in child support laws, a job change by either parent, the sudden disability of either parent, or the needs of the child.
Burden of proof
Unless the parents can agree on proposed changes to the existing support order, the parent seeking the modification must demonstrate a significant change in circumstances of one of the parents or the child.
Filing a motion with the court
If the parents are unable to agree on the terms of a modified order, the parent seeking the modification must file a motion with the court that had original jurisdiction in the case. The filing is usually accompanied by documentary evidence that supports the request, such as pay stubs showing lower income or medical records demonstrating a physical incapacity. The court will schedule a hearing on the motion. Generally, such hearings do not last more than one day. If a physician or other witness presents live testimony, the witness must be in the courtroom.
Sound legal advice
Anyone considering seeking the modification of an existing child support order may wish to consult an experienced divorce attorney for an analysis of the evidence, suggested legal strategies and an opinion on the likelihood of prevailing.