Child Support Modification in Illinois
This guide is designed to help you get off on the right foot if you are seeking to modify a child support obligation in Illinois, Most of the points below are applicable regardless of whether you are seeking to increase, decrease, abate (temporarily stop) or terminate child support.
When can child support be modified?Child support can be modified in Illinois "upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances." If there is no agreement for a modification, then it is ultimately up to the judge whether the "substantial change in circumstances" hurdle has been cleared. The emancipation of a child (turning 18 and graduating high school, whichever comes LAST), is almost always going to be considered a substantial change in circumstances. One of the most notable changes in the recent updates to the child support portion of the divorce act in Illinois is that a child support payor who has a child from a subsequent relationship may be able to cite the birth of that child to modify the child support that they are paying from a previous relationship. This is a switch from the "first in time, first in right" mindset of the old statute to more equal treatment of all children. The most common reasons cited for child support modification are that the payor's income has gone down dramatically (such as due to the loss of a job) or has gone up dramatically (through a promotion, raises, etc.). There is no "magic number" as to how drastic these up or down changes have to be to qualify as a "substantial change." Child support in Illinois is now determined based on the income of BOTH parents, not just the child support payor, so a substantial increase or decrease in the child support recipient's own earned income may also qualify as the basis for a modification. Please note that this is by no means a comprehensive list of things that could meet the "substantial change" hurdle- therefore, if you think your particular facts may entitle you to a child support modification, you should meet with a well qualified Illinois family law attorney who can give you a realistic assessment of your chances of success and help you separate the "wheat from the chaff" when it comes to the basis for seeking a modification from the court.
What can I do to expedite the process?Get all your key financial documents together before you meet with the attorney. Those would be things like your past 2 or 3 income tax returns, most recent W2's and/or 1099's, your recent bank and retirement account statements, and so forth. Everyone seeking child support (or spousal support) modification in Illinois must fill out a Uniform Financial Affidavit that covers your assets, liabilities, income and expenses. You can find that form here:
Please note that the court may impose "significant penalties and sanctions, including costs and attorneys' fees" if this form is filled out falsely or inaccurately. You should be careful in filling out the form to make sure you list all your sources of income, all your bank accounts, real estate, vehicles and so forth. Having a first draft of the Financial Affidavit done when you come in to meet with the attorney can help to expedite the process. Also, make a quick summary of your key points as to why you think a "substantial change in circumstances" has occurred since the last court order was entered. Please note, "I'm having a really hard time paying this" is almost never, by itself, going to satisfy the "substantial change" test.
When should I file for the modification?You should file for the modification AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. With a few incredibly narrow exceptions, the court does not have jurisdiction to modify child support retroactive to before you filed your motion. For example, let's say you lose your job May 1, 2019. You file for child support modification November 1, 2019. You will owe the full amount of child support for May, June, July, August, September and October EVEN THOUGH you didn't have the income for those 6 months and there is generally nothing the court can do about it. The same applies if the shoe is on the other foot - if your ex gets a big promotion at work and you are seeking a child support increase, you can only get the increase, at best, from the time that the motion is actually filed with the court, not retroactive to when the promotion and raise occurred. In other words, YOU SNOOZE, YOU LOSE.
How do I select an attorney for child support modification?It's important to select an attorney who is well-experienced in child support modification proceedings and has a good familiarity with the court processes in the county where your modification proceedings will be pending. It's also important to have an ease of communication with your attorney. Not everyone communicates the same way and even an excellent attorney isn't the right match for every client. Meet with 2 or 3 well-qualified attorneys and select one with relevant experience whose communication style fits well with your own. Good luck!