I/M/O Lynn: Returning to school may be a substantial change in circumstances to modify child support

Once a child support order has been approved by the court the modification statute, NH RSA 458- C:7, allows for a petition to modify the child support order after three (3) years have passed. If one party petitions for a modification before the three year mark they must show a substantial change in circumstances that makes continuing the original order improper and unfair.

The NH supreme court released an opinion on In the Matter of Lynn and Lynn on April 24, 2009 which deals with the substantial change in circumstances standard. In this case, when the Mother and Father got divorced, two children began residing with Father and one child with Mother. Mother became obligated to pay child support at a rate that deviated from the guidelines due to her limited income. Less than 3 years later, Mother petitioned to modify her child support obligation because she had been accepted to nursing school and was going to have to work part-time. The court granted the modification and ceased all obligations to pay child support.

The trial court specifically found that the Mother’s income while in school was a substantial change in circumstances and that even though the Mother is voluntarily underemployed it is only one factor to consider whether or not modification is warranted.

The Father appealed the decision to discontinue child support. The Father argued that by choosing to go to nursing school the Mother was voluntarily underemployed and therefore she should still be required to pay the child support. The NH Supreme Court held that the trial court followed the statute and therefore the trial court did not err in modifying the child support.

However, the court warned that this particular case is not meant to imply that a parent is entitled to reduced child support obligation whenever the parent has voluntarily reduced his/her income to attend school. The court mused that there could be circumstances when a parent goes back to school voluntarily and even with decreased income they must still pay the initial child support amount.

Marisa L. Ulloa, Crusco Law Office, PLLC Law Clerk, contributed to this post.