Monday, November 2, 2009

Child Support Reduction & Collection Requests Flood Friends of Court

The pain is inflicted on both sides of the fence in family court cases across the state.  For those paying child support, and for its recipients, the depressed economy in Southeast Michigan is taking a toll.   

As a recent article in the Detroit News makes clear, the Friend of the Court in counties accross Michigan are scrambling to field the flood of requests filed to reduce child support, or to enforce an existing support order.  Most of the parents seeking a support reduction are doing so because they've either lost their job or have been handed a pay-cut.

Child support in Michigan is calculated using an algorithmic equation known as the Michigan Child Support Formula.  This formula is based on three main inputs: the payor's income, the recipient's income, and the number of overnight parenting sessions for the payor.  A payor's support obligation is modifiable if there is a "change in circumstance" to justify the request.  One such justification is when a payor, through no fault of his own, loses a job or suffers a significant decline in income. 

In difficult economic times, county Friends of the Court (the administrative arm of the family court) experience an increase in the volume of motions from payor's and custodial parents alike, seeking relief from the financial pain.  In the case of a payor, the support automatically deducted from his paycheck may exceed more than half of his take-home, especially when that "take home" is an unemployment check.  Across town, the custodial parent is used to receiving a certain amount of support to help make ends meet for the children.

When a party files a motion to modify his or her support, the matter is reviewed by a Friend of the Court Referee (a quasi-judicial official) before it goes to the family court judge.  Most FOC Referees utilize support specialists; professionals trained in the application of the child support formula.  The court rules provide for the Referee to make a recommendation to the judge regarding whether the payor's support should be reduced or not.

Each November, as the year-end approaches, parties realize there are only a few weeks left to get their matter heard before the courts shut down for the holidays.  Many scramble to file motions, hoping they can obtain some financial relief.  Wanting to save money, they forego hiring an attorney.  When a party files a motion on their own behalf, however, it can take quite a long time before the FOC grants them a hearing.

One advantage to hiring legal counsel is that the attorney knows how to get a client's motion on the dockett by the end of the year.  In addition, family law attorneys know the many angles and tricky aspects of the support formula, and how to apply that formula to a variety of compensation packages and parenting schedules.

According to the Detroit News, child support arrearages rose by approxiamtely $113 million from 2005 to 2008, although the number of support payors decreased.  These support arrears are expected to increase as unemployed payors lose their state benefits.  The situation has attracted the attention of Congress, which is proposing legislation designed to extend unemployment benefits for child support payors.

If you or a family member need relief from an acute child support situation, contact our law firm for immediate relief.  Our firm handles dozens of such cases throughout the year.  Our service is excellent and our fees reasonable.

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