Defending a Modification Lawsuit

Along with stubbing your toe and trips to the dentist, being sued is one of the more unpleasant experiences someone can encounter. Being sued for a modification of child support, visitation or custody is no different. An alleged change in circumstances often pries into two of the most private areas of a person’s life: their home and bank account. When defending a modification lawsuit, it is important to know what the other side must show, and what you can do to combat that evidence.

As mentioned in our previous posts, to be awarded a custody modification, the requesting party must meet a three-part test. There must be a material change in circumstances in the custodial home that occurred since the original decree, that material change must adversely affect the child, and a modification must be in the best interests of the child. The analysis for a modification of support is very similar: one may be awarded if there has been a substantial or material change in the circumstances of the father, the mother, or the child or children.

When a person is sued for modification of child custody, often there is some sort of abusive or neglectful behavior alleged to show the material change. In these cases, a guardian ad litem (GAL) is appointed to represent the child’s interests in the lawsuit, which can include a home study of the child’s living environment. This part of the process literally invites the legal system into your home, which is one of the personal areas of life. If you are the parent defending a custody modification, the best way to interact with a GAL is to show that your home is a suitable environment for your child. That means keeping your home clean, having ample food in the house, and, depending on the season, working heat and air. If there is some question as to your relationship with your child, show the GAL that the claim has either been exaggerated or that you are honestly working to improve that relationship. The GAL’s opinion is a large factor in the outcome.

Another common modification lawsuit is one that seeks to increase or decrease a person’s child support obligation. This arises when there is a belief that the obligor either has more or less income than when the agreement or order was entered. In these cases, one of the things that seems to bother clients the most is the revealing of their financial information. As private as finances are, a necessary evil of a support modification lawsuit is the ability to study this information to determine if there has been a material change in circumstances. Just as that information can be used to support a modification, you can introduce evidence that shows that your obligation should remain the same (or even be lowered). This could be for a number of reasons, such as the minor child now attending private school or having some major need that was unforeseeable at the time the agreement or order was entered.

Being the defendant in a lawsuit is not a fun thing, but it also isn’t the end of the world. Defending a modification lawsuit is similar to defending others: poke holes in the other side’s argument. If a problem in your relationship with your child has been falsely alleged, discredit that story. If there is a problem with that relationship, show an effort to be improving it. If it is alleged that you make more money and can pay more child support, put on proof of why that is not the case. Mississippi courts know that parenting is difficult, and co-parenting even more so. Showing a court that the child’s best interests are served by your custody or that your support obligation is what you deserve to pay is how to successfully defend a modification lawsuit. It sounds simple, but like many legal situations it can be extremely difficult. If you have a question about a modification lawsuit you are facing, call the Law Office of Matthew S. Poole at 601-573-7429.

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