Few issues in a Portland divorce have the ability to become more contentious than those involving children. While many couples focus initially on which parent will have custody of the children, ultimately the parties must address the issue of child support. An award of child support has a monumental impact on all parties involved, and anyone who is going through the divorce process must take the appropriate steps to protect their interests. The dedicated Oregon child custody attorneys at Gearing, Rackner & McGrath, LLP, have extensive experience handling divorce cases as well as the issues that frequently come up when going through a divorce, including child custody and child support.
What Is Child Support?
When a couple with children gets divorced, the court will typically award primary physical custody to one parent, who is referred to as the custodial parent. However, Oregon law imposes a legal obligation on both parents to provide support to their minor children. Thus, child support refers to money paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent for the care, support, education and welfare of the couple’s children. Technically, the right to child support is held by the child; however, child support payments are made to the custodial parent. Thus, while parents are free come to their own agreement regarding child support issues, the court has the ultimate say approving the agreement.
How Portland Courts Award Child Support
When a couple goes through an Oregon divorce, both parents have a legal responsibility to provide for their children. Typically, a court will order child support up until a child turns 18, or graduates from high school, whichever is later. In some situations, a court may award child support to adult children if they are enrolled in college. However, courts do not automatically award child support in every case. Instead, courts first consider whether child support is necessary, by looking at the following factors:
- The income of each parent,
- The amount of time each parent spends with the children,
- Child care costs, if any,
- Medical insurance costs,
- Ongoing medical costs not covered by insurance, and
- Other relevant factors such as Social Security or Veterans benefits.
Oregon is unique in that judges use a predetermined formula to come up with the presumptive amount of child support. Rather than coming up with a subjective amount, judges plug the parties’ information into a calculator, which is available here. In most cases, a judge will order the non-custodial parent to pay the presumptive amount of child support. However, although rare, a judge can deviate from that presumptive amount if the circumstances require.
Once a judge orders child support, the non-custodial parent must begin making monthly payments. Most often, these payments are made through automatic payroll deductions; however, the parties can arrange to exchange cash, if both agree. Oregon also provides an online portal for non-custodial parents to make their child support payments online.
Modification of Portland Child Support Orders
A Portland child support order has an enormous impact on both the paying and receiving parent. Especially in divorces where the parties have young children, a child support order may be in existence for more than 15 years. And while courts try to forecast the needs of parties when coming up with the amount of child support, sometimes circumstances change.
Both custodial and non-custodial parents can petition the court to modify an existing child support order. To do so, a party must establish that there has been a material change in circumstances since the judge’s initial child support award. The most common reasons a party may request a child support modification order are:
- The paying parent experienced an increase or decrease in income;
- The receiving spouse experienced an increase or decrease in income;
- The needs of the child receiving child support materially changed;
- The custody arrangement between the parties changed;
- The number of children either party is responsible for changed.
In some cases, both parents will agree to a modification of child support. However, more often, the party requesting the modification will need to petition the court and ask for a hearing. At the hearing, the judge will review the initial child support award and determine if the newly presented evidence necessitates a modification to the order.
Enforcement of an Oregon Child Support Order
Once finalized, a child support order creates a legal obligation on the part of the non-custodial parent. If the non-custodial parent does not make the required monthly payments, the custodial parent may file a Portland child support enforcement action. This can compel the non-custodial spouse to catch up on missed payments.
Of course, there is often a reason why the non-custodial parent has not made the payments, and the judge will give them an opportunity to be heard. Often, a non-custodial parent will not pay because they lost their job, were injured and cannot work, or suffered some other reduction in income. However, non-custodial parents must notify the court and seek a modification order as soon as they know they cannot pay, and should not let a balance accrue, as child support modifications are not retroactive. Thus, whatever a non-custodial spouse’s reason is for not paying, they will almost certainly be responsible for back child support.
If the court determines that a non-custodial parent failed to fulfil their legal obligations to pay child support, the court may take any of the following actions:
- Garnishing wages;
- Placing a lien on personal property;
- Garnishing proceeds from a personal injury settlement;
- Seizing funds in a bank account;
- Revoking a driver’s license;
- Intercepting tax refunds; and
- Reporting unpaid amounts to collection agencies
Additionally, if the court determines that the non-paying spouse’s refusal to pay was willful, and not related to an inability to pay, the non-paying spouse could be held in contempt of court, and may face additional fines and, potentially, incarceration.
Schedule a Consultation to Discuss Oregon Child Support Matters
If you are in the process of seeking child support in Oregon, or believe that an existing child support order no longer accurately reflects your situation, contact one of the dedicated Oregon family law attorneys at Gearing, Rackner & McGrath, LLP. As dedicated divorce lawyers, we have extensive experience handling Portland divorce cases as well as the related issues that frequently come up when going through a divorce, including child custody and child support. To learn more about how our award-winning attorneys can assist you in obtaining child support or modifying an existing child support order, call us at 503-222-9116 or contact us through our online form to learn more about how we can help.