Life is fluid. Our best-laid plans are subject to this fluidity and for better or worse, and we have to make adjustments in our lives when things change. One big area of our lives that can create havoc—or can be really positive—is when there is a significant change in our employment status. Our jobs are our lifelines. We rely on our careers as a part of our identities and rely on the income to make ends meet. If you are divorced and are in the role of a supporting spouse, you also rely on your income to make alimony and child support payments.
So what should you do, then, if you experience a significant change in income?
Alimony Can be Modified
Alimony orders can be modified upon the demonstration of a material and substantial change of circumstances since the order was entered. If you have experienced a significant change (increase) in income, then your dependent spouse will probably be interested in receiving more alimony. This means to expect that your former spouse will serve you with legal pleadings to modify your alimony obligation upward.
In the alternative, if your income has plummeted, then you have probably lost the ability to make your alimony payments. So instead of exposing yourself to contempt of court, you should immediately consult with an attorney to seek a modification of your alimony obligation. If you have lost your job due to circumstances outside of your control, such as an accident or medical condition, an economic downturn, or company layoffs, then your attorney will be able to present this evidence as a material and substantial change in your income to justify lowering your alimony payments.
As a warning, courts also look suspiciously upon people who intentionally cause themselves to be unemployed or under-employed. If a court believes that you have improperly reduced your own income, then you should not expect to see your alimony obligation reduced.
Child Support is Calculated Based on Income
North Carolina utilizes an “income shares” approach to child support, which considers the income of each parent as well as the proportionate amount of overnight visits each parent has with the child. So if you have an existing order, it is in-part based on your income at the time of that order.
Generally, North Carolina courts will not entertain the modification of a child support order unless at least three years have passed, or there has been a 15% change in the parent’s income. Further, a parent has to file legal pleadings with the court in order to seek a modification. There is nothing automatic about it. Therefore, to avoid child support arrearages, you should notify an attorney as soon as you have a significant change in employment that lowers your income.
New Direction Family Law
When you experience life changes, violating court orders can make matters a lot worse. If you need to modify an alimony or child custody order, call us. New Direction Family Law is a family law firm that offers guidance and representation to men and women regarding separations, divorces, property division orders, alimony, child custody, and child support. Our attorneys are smart, hard working professionals who will stand by you. Our office covers Wake, Johnston, Durham and surrounding counties. Contact New Direction Family Law at (919) 719-3470 to schedule an appointment or reach us online through our website.
Sarah J. Hink
New Direction Family Law