Raising kids is a costly enterprise, and throwing in questions about economic hardship, child custody, and support can complicate things further. There are a few things you should understand as you try to sort your situation out.
Economic Trouble Doesn't Automatically Equal No Custody
People often worry about how the court will deal with child custody given their economic circumstances. First, it's important to understand that the courts treat custody and support as two distinct issues. Child custody is decided based on what the court thinks will be in the best interests of the child.
Support, on the other hand, is decided after custody has been determined. Once the primary custodial parent is named, the court will award custody based on a formula that the state uses.
To be clear, though, your child custody lawyer can represent you as your child support lawyer, too. The two issues will just be resolved with two different sets of conferences, possible hearings, and paperwork.
Make Sure You Can Document Your Finances
Whether you're the custodial parent seeking support or the obliged payer, it's critical that you be able to present your finances. Try to gather at least a few months' worth of bills and pay stubs. Make copies of your last two years tax returns, too. It doesn't have to be perfect, but you want to go into court armed with enough information that the judge or appointed officer can figure out where you stand financially.
When you're seeking a modification based on changes in your circumstances, you may need a little more documentation. If at all possible, try to have supporting information from the time of the change. For example, someone who has had their hours cut at work might present pay stubs from before and after the changes went into effect. Formal notifications, such as something informing you of a pending layoff, can be helpful, too.
Try to Honor Any Current Arrangement
Folks paying child support should make the best effort possible to keep paying under the circumstances. Non-payment, even if there's just a verbal agreement, should only be considered an option under dire circumstances.
Recipients of child support payments should keep accepting payments and documenting them. Regardless of whether the court modifies an order upward or downward, arrangements will be made to make up the difference over the coming months. If back support is owed, this will be tacked on as an arrearage and collected in due time.