A Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) of a child support order refers to an order of child support that is increased due to an increase in the cost of living. COLA is available every year, but the support order must be at least twenty-four (24) months old to be eligible for the COLA process. Further, before COLA may be effectuated, there has to have been a change of at least 10% in the Consumer Price Index for urban areas (CPI-U), which is published by the federal government from the year of the most current order, or since 1994, whichever is later.
The COLA is calculated in the following manner:
- Add together each annual percentage change according to the Consumer Price Index for Urban Areas (CPI-U) since the last order, or beginning with 1994, whichever is later, until the changes total at least 10%.
- Multiply that total percentage number increase by the child support set forth in the court order; this will give you the COLA amount.
- Add the COLA to the child support sum set forth in the order. This will be the newly adjusted child support order.
For example: 2001 order for $1,000/month child support
1. Average annual percent change in CPI-U:
2001 = 2.8%
2003 = 2.3%
2004 = 2.9%
2005 = 3.4%
2. 13% x $1,000 = $130 (the COLA)
3. $1,000 + $130 = $1,130 (the new monthly child support as adjusted by COLA)
For support that is paid through the Support Collection Unit (SCU), the COLA process is automatic and there is no involvement of the court. After making the COLA calculations, the SCU adjusts the support order and sends it to the parties and to the court that issued the initial support order. For support that is not paid through the SCU, and absent a written Marital Agreement which deals with COLA, an application needs to be made to the Family or Supreme Court to have the support order adjusted.
If the support order was adjusted by the SCU to reflect the Cost of Living increase, and either party disagrees with the adjusted order, then either party (but not someone receiving public assistance), may file written objections. The objections must be filed within 35 days after the adjusted order is mailed by the SCU, and a copy must be provided to the other party and to the SCU.
The objections must be made to the Court that issued the initial support order. Once objections are filed, the COLA does not take effect and the Court generally schedules a hearing to determine the propriety of the COLA calculated by the SCU. After the Court resolves the objections filed, it will either confirm the COLA calculation or make a different adjustment depending upon the facts before the Court.