..Support payments can be reduced


            Posted on Apr 16,2006    .     

            With Court Help, support payments can be reduced

Q.  My wife and I got divorced several years ago. We have three children, 10, 15 and 19, who live with her. I've been paying alimony and child support; and I also pay toward their college education.

The problem is, I just got laid off from a longtime job at a big company, where I was getting $1,200 a week, plus 100 percent-paid health- insurance. I got a new job at $960 a week -- but no benefits. COBRA health insurance for three kids and me costs $860 a month. Do the math.

I asked my ex if she'd take a cut to the alimony and child support, but she refused. What can I do?


A. L. Wilmington


A.  You need to file a complaint for modification in your county probate court asking for an end to alimony, a reduction in child support and some reduction in your college tuition obligation. Remember: your old support order keeps going at the same high rate until you get a court to change it. The longer you wait, the deeper in the hole you dig. So get moving.

Your case will be assigned to a judge. Have it put on that judge's motion list so it comes up within three weeks. Next, file a motion for a temporary order to reduce the payments. Ask for a summons. Then have a constable or deputy sheriff serve these papers on your ex-wife, along with notice that the motion will be heard in court.

When your motion is heard, the judge may agree on the spot that your new job amounts to an involuntary reduction in income and justifies a a temporary order to immediately reduce your payments. If so, go for broke and ask that reduction be made retroactive to the date you filed your complaint for modification.

That's the best-case scenario for you. You have a good chance of success at the temporary order stage. Failing that , you have a good chance at trial to get your payments reduced. Even if the judge issues the temporary order to reduce your payments, for a speedy trial so the order can be made permanent. If the judge had yet to make the order retroactive, you can ask again. Of course once you file, your ex-wife or her lawyer might agree to a reduction to avoid a trial. There's also a chance you'll learn your ex is now earning a lot more than she was when you divorced. That means your support order will be even less. You can check what the support order will be consulting the guidelines and using the form available on line at: www.mass.gov/courts/formsandguidelines

Gerald L. Nissenbaum has been a practicing trial lawyer and family law specialist in Boston since 1967. Any legal advice in this column is general in nature, and does not establish a lawyer-client relationship with anyone. Send your questions to dearjeny@bostonheraldcom