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Paying child support and modifications

Fathers are more likely to consistently pay when the established amount is manageable based upon his income. Circumstances change, however, and meeting the original court ordered amount can become unachievable. Consequently, arrears increase and penalties are applied which may lead to incarceration for non-payment. By taking immediate action and interacting with authorities to clearly present your situation, it is possible for child support orders to be reduced to a more manageable amount. The information contained in this paragraph does not constitute legal advisement.

Basic facts

Child support orders are typically established in two ways: (1) by South Carolina Department of Social Services Child Support Enforcement (CSE); or (2) as part of a divorce proceeding. Orders established through CSE can be modified administratively by that agency. Child support obligations established as part of a divorce proceeding are called Private Orders and must be modified through the Family Court. A custodial parent can also request that a private order be enforced by CSE in which case the child support obligation can be modified by CSE administratively. If a CSE attorney is present at contempt hearings, the order is subsequently enforced by CSE. If you are unsure about enforcement, the clerk at the Family Court can provide information as to whether a child support court order is enforceable by CSE.

The steps to modify vary depending upon the way in which the order was initially established.

Who may be entitled to a reduction?

Has the parent experienced a change in circumstances? The three primary "changes in circumstance" that warrant a modification are:

1. Payor makes "substantially" less income at current job than when the child support order was established. The DSS/CSE standard formula used to define the term"substantially" was calculated on the new child support worksheet resulting in the amount owed being at least 20% less than before. Visit the to calculate your child support payment according to current guidelines.

Note: You must have accurate financial information for the custodial parent to accurately determine whether the 20% less standard has been met. Often, this is not the case; therefore, a modification request should be made to document the lower rate of pay of the new job and the increased difficulties of making payments in a timely manner. It is important for fathers to clearly understand that DSS/CSE will only modify the support amount if that which should be paid is 20% less than what is currently being paid once the new worksheet has been calculated. The information contained in this paragraph does not constitute legal advisement.

2. Payor has a biological/ adopted child living in his home who was either born or adopted since the last child support order was established.

3. Payor was injured or has a medical condition that prevents him from working.

The condition must be documented by a licensed, medical doctor. The court and DSS/CSE want to receive a simple, written statement clearly defining the circumstances and presented by your medical provider.

The court may also consider extraordinary expenses, shared custody or other orders.

If the payor meets one of the three changes in circumstances, the following steps may be taken depending upon whether it is a CSE order or a private order.

CSE Order

Payor parent has experienced a change in circumstances that warrants modification to their child support order. What steps should they take?

Step One: Write a letter to DSS/CSE advising that a change in circumstance exists and request modification to the child support order. Send this letter to the CSE caseworker assigned to your case in the regional office that enforces your order. The CSE website provides this information. Copy of a sample form letter provided. Note that in your letter you must fully identify who you are; state specifically what your change in circumstance is and definitively request a review of your case.

Step Two: Collect attachments

Depending on the type of "change in circumstance," the payor compose a version of the sample form letter which provides all relevant information needed by DSS/CSE to verify the parameters of the "change in circumstances."

For example:

  • Is the change in circumstances related to the income the father makes? If so, attach at least two pay stubs from current job
  • Is the change in circumstances related to a new child in the father's home?If so, attach birth certificate or adoption papers
  • Is the change in circumstances related to a medical injury or illness? If so, attach a statement from the doctor that clearly identifies the anticipated length of time that you will be unable to work and describes your inability to perform the same work and/or temporary inability to perform specific types of work.

Step Three: Always keep copies all documents that you send to DSS/CSE or private agency.

It is recommended that you either hand deliver to the office or send documents by certified mail with a return receipt requested to the appropriate case worker.

Payor parent should file legal modification paperwork with court if DSS/CSE unresponsive.

Private Order

Payor parent steps to reduce child support payments

DSS/CSE will not be able to modify child support orders in the event that changes in circumstances have occurred. You will need to file your own legal paperwork with the Family Court requesting a modification.

This website offers downloadable self-represented litigant modification forms and instructions for those who need a modification and who pay pursuant to a private order.

Prior to filling out the legal papers:

  • Determine if the situation fits into one of the three primary categories for change-in-circumstances, or applies to other possible considerations (additional examples will be provided at fatherhood programs)
  • Collect all relevant documents to confirm the parent's change-in-circumstance
  • Determine whether or not you have the financial ability to pay to have the legal papers processed.The average cost involved in filing the modification papers are:
    • $150.00 filing fee paid to Family Court
    • $ 25.00 service of documents by Sheriff's Department
    • $175.00 total expenses (note that some fees may vary for some counties)
  • If the non-custodial parent does not have the ability to pay the $175.00 to process the paperwork, it is suggested that they file, along with the Complaint for Decrease, a Motion and Affidavit to Proceed In Forma Pauperis which is downloadable from this website. The information contained in this paragraph does not constitute legal advisement.

For in depth instructions on modifying child support, read more here.