As circumstances change over time, it may be necessary to reopen a child support case and modify the amount of the monthly payments. South Carolina courts require a substantial change in the circumstances of one or both parents before they may reopen a child support case. Once the court determines that reopening the case is appropriate, it must consider additional factors to decide the amount by which to modify the payments.
Substantial Change in Circumstances
The South Carolina Court of Appeals decided in the 1985 case of Calvert v. Calvert that a substantial change in circumstances is required before South Carolina courts can modify child support. Circumstances that are considered substantial enough to warrant reopening a child support case are a 20 percent or greater change in either parent's wages, a child or children adopted by or born to the paying parent after the initial child support amount was ordered, or a decline in health or injury to either parent that prevents the parent from earning a living.
Factors Affecting the Amount
South Carolina courts use a child-support guidelines worksheet to calculate child support. The worksheet takes certain factors into consideration in the calculation of the original child support amount, and in any modification. These factors include the health of both parents, health of the child, cost of living, custody of the child, other child support orders involving the paying parent, and the assets of both parents. South Carolina courts will grant a modification only if the recalculated amount, based on the aforementioned factors, results in a 10 percent or greater difference in the monthly payment.
Procedure for Modification
A support modification begins when one parent files a petition for modification of child support with the family law court that issued the original order. The petition must state what substantial circumstances have arisen since entry of the original support order to justify a modification. The petition is filed with the required filing fee and additional documents.
South Carolina law requires filing additional documents with the petition for modification. These documents are a family court cover sheet with the names and addresses of both parents; a certificate of exemption stating that custody and visitation are not issues included in the modification; a summons with the name and contact information of the filing parent; and a financial declaration that details the financial situation of the filing parent.
Service and Hearing
After the petition and additional documents are filed, they must be served on the other parent, either by the sheriff or a professional process server. Once served, the other parent must file an answer to the petition within 30 days. After the 30-day period has expired, it is appropriate to contact the family law court and request a hearing date. The time it takes to get a modification may be shortened considerably if the parents agree on a modification amount and submit this modification agreement in writing to the court. Often the judge simply signs off on the agreement. If the parents disagree on the modification, however, the court must hold a hearing, and possibly a trial, to determine whether to modify support, and by how much.
It is up to the parent asking for modification to prove that a substantial change in circumstances exists and justifies modification of the original child support order. Proof of substantial change includes pay stubs and tax returns showing a decrease in earnings, medical bills that reduce earning ability or increase the need of the receiving parent or child, copies of birth certificates or adoption papers of children who have joined the paying parent's household since entry of the original support order, and copies of other child support orders involving the paying parent.The court considers all the evidence presented before deciding whether to modify child support and then calculates the new monthly support payment.