Modifying an existing support order is a simple action requiring no more than filling and filing a petition asking the court to modify the order based on a “change in circumstance.” Often times a “change in circumstances” means the payee’s or payor’s employment income has decreased in some way and they want a new Support Order to reflect this fact. There are numerous scenarios in which there is a decrease in income and parties in those situation are usually the first to go to their County’s domestic relations office to seek modification.
Not surprisingly, people are not always forthcoming about their increase in income – but they should be. On each DRO generated support Order there is a section of language entitled “Important Legal Notice.” This section contains language which states, in no uncertain terms, that “[parties] must within seven days inform the domestic relations section and the other parties, in writing, of any material change in circumstances relevant to the level of support…a party who willfully fails to report a material change in circumstances may be adjudged in contempt of court and may be fined or imprisoned.”
Suffice to say, if you do not identify such circumstances, it is difficult to argue ignorance of the law (even if that were helpful, which it is not).
Where a payor can get in trouble from a practical standpoint is that Rule 1910.17 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure allows for the retroactive application of a support order “if the petitioner was precluded from filing a petition for modification by reason of a…misrepresentation of another party.”
Taken with the standard language from the Order and it is clear that it is in a payor’s best interest to inform the payee in writing that they have had an increase in income and put the onus on the other party for modifying the Order. The consequences to not admitting to the increased income will be an instantly accumulated amount of arrears and, depending on the facts of the case, exposure to additional sanctions from the court, including, but not limited to, paying the cost of the payee’s attorneys fees, income capturing methods (like income tax return intercepts), or even jail (in the most egregious of circumstances).
Disclosure between parties is an important aspect of family law. If you have a support order against you and you have experienced an increase in income, you should consult with your attorney as to what measures should be taken to insulate yourself from potential sanctions. Your attorney may be able to work with the payee or their counsel to adjust the support order without having to go to court. However you choose to approach it, you do not want to find yourself on the wrong end of a sanctions order.