It's frightening to think that a judge who knows very little about you and your children will be determining how much child support you will owe (or receive). And yet today's child support system is built on judges interpreting financial information that is passed on to them by parents and lawyers. Certainly, the system isn't perfect, but it exists to protect and provide for children around the country.
Preparing for a Child Support Hearing
As you prepare for your own child support hearing, here's a list of things not to do:
- Do not ignore your mail. We've all been there; sometimes you get so overwhelmed, it seems easier not to look. But it's imperative that you read every piece of mail that comes to you from your lawyer, your ex's lawyer, or the courts. It's best to read it once, set it aside for 30 minutes or so, and then read it again. This will help you avoid the mistake of misreading or misinterpreting what you're reading. And when you're required to take action, do so in a timely manner. Don't put off replying to a request, contacting your lawyer, or following through on things you've said you would do.
- Don't attempt to manipulate the information you're supplying to the courts. Be 100% truthful on each and every form you fill out. Don't neglect to report under-the-table income or over-report your financial needs in an attempt to control the amount of child support that will be awarded. Attempts to game the system in this manner are usually transparent and will reflect poorly on you in front of the judge.
- Do not arrive late to your child support hearing –– or fail to show up at all. Do yourself a favor and get there early. This way, an unexpected traffic jam won't ruin your chance to make a good first impression on the judge. And don't be surprised if your case doesn't start on time. If other cases are taking longer than expected, just use the time to settle your nerves and take a few deep breaths before your case begins.
- Do not stray from the topic at hand. The purpose of your child support hearing is for the judge to decide how much child support you will receive or owe. He or she doesn't have the authority to change your child custody order or visitation arrangements at the same time, so don't cause unnecessary distractions by attempting to discuss those other issues during your child support hearing.
- Don't entertain unrealistic expectations. The court will determine child support based on all of the information supplied –– by you and by your ex –– as well as the state's child support guidelines. If you suspect that your ex is being untruthful about his or her earnings, say so. In cases where the courts suspect voluntary impoverishment, the judge will impute a parent's income. In other words, the court will establish child support based on what they believe the parent should be able to earn, based on past employment, education, etc. However, don't get so caught up in what should be ordered that you refuse to see the facts of the situation. If your ex has little-to-no actual income, then the amount of child support awarded is going to be minimal. And while that may be disappointing, it's also important to be realistic as you look at the facts of your case and prepare yourself for court.