Whenever a state adopts new child support guidelines, the judges in that state gird their loins for an onslaught of divorced parents seeking to modify their cases. Judges know that changes in child support guidelines are significant enough to garner news media attention, which means a flurry of people calling their lawyers to find out if they can get more money (or if they’ll have to pay more money, as the case may be). This will happen in Alabama too, because as you can see in yesterday’s note, the new Alabama child support guidelines are more generous to custodial parents at the median income level for all family sizes, and more generous to custodial parents of one child at all income levels.
To make this expected onslaught slightly less challenging, the Advisory Committee and the Alabama Supreme Court used a familiar strategy: they specified that a person seeking to modify child support “must plead and prove that there has occurred a material change in circumstances that is substantial and continuing since the last order of child support.” You can argue with the grammar (Miss Nichols, my high school English teacher, would have made me say “must plead and prove that a substantial, continuing, and material change in circumstances has occurred since the last order of child support”), but the goal is clear, to preclude the filing of petitions to modify based solely on the promulgation of the new child support guidelines.
It’s clear then that a person should refrain from filing to modify child support unless he or she can show that a material change in circumstances has occurred. That is, that there’s been a change in income of one of the parents, that health insurance cost or child care cost has changed, or that one of the children has reached the age of majority. Once the court is satisfied that a material change in circumstances has occurred, the court will apply the old guidelines to any case filed in 2008 or before and apply the new guidelines to any case (including a modification) filed in 2009 or later.