Options for Child Support When Unemployed

By Andrea Johnson

Attorney, Cordell & Cordell

With the current economic situation, many unemployed divorced dads cannot afford child support payments.

Some just pay what they can for a period of time until they find another job.  Others make informal agreements with their former spouse about a temporary modification.

Both of these courses of action are wrong.

If you choose to just pay what you can while you are looking for a new job, you are going to begin to accrue an arrearage which could lead to your child’s mother filing a contempt action.

If this happens, it’s likely you will end up owing significantly more money in addition to court fees and the costs for litigation. For example, if you have an arrearage of $3,000 and your former spouse files a contempt action, there is no way you are going to get around being required to pay back the arrearage amount.

Additionally, if the court finds you in contempt for failure to pay the ordered child support amount, you are likely going to be ordered to pay your former spouse’s legal expenses in the contempt action. The theory behind this is that they would not have otherwise incurred the expense except for their need to collect child support arrears.

You are also likely going to incur legal fees of your own, as it is never wise to walk into a courtroom on a contempt case unrepresented. So what began as a $3,000 arrearage can easily turn into a $10,000 obligation with jail time as the option for non-payment. This is definitely not the best option.

If you choose to make an informal agreement with your former spouse, it may work for a while and things may go according to your agreement. However, you should know your informal agreement did absolutely nothing to change your court-ordered obligation.

This means that in spite of your agreement, your spouse can come back at any time and hold you in contempt for failure to pay the court-ordered amount. Rest assured this will happen.

She may be nice for a while, but that will last only until her pocketbook tightens. She will see the money you did not as an easy collection to get her finances back on track. Then comes the contempt case. Again, not the best option for you.

If you have lost your job, are receiving a reduced salary, or otherwise have an involuntary loss of income, you need to file a petition for modification of child support immediately.

In the state I practice in (Georgia), the law allows for a modification of a child support order when there has been a substantial change in circumstances of either party warranting a recalculation of child support. This includes your involuntary loss of income. It may also include a significant increase of the custodial parent’s income, as well.

What’s the advantage of immediately filing a modification action?

In Georgia and likely other states, the court may modify the child support order beginning at the time of the filing of the petition for modification of support. Additionally, the filing of the petition for modification will likely protect you from facing a contempt action.

Understand, however, that the Court has the discretion to not retroactively modify a support order back to the date of filing. You are more likely to obtain a favorable decision on retroactive modification if you file right away and allow little to no arrearage to accrue prior to the filing.

By immediately filing a modification action, this will protect you and prevent possible additional charges from incurring that you would not otherwise owe.

Cordell & Cordell has men’s divorce lawyers located nationwide should you seek legal representation.


men's divorce lawyer Andrea JohnsonAndrea M. Johnson is a Senior Attorney in the Atlanta, Georgia office of Cordell & Cordell, where she practices domestic relations exclusively. Ms. Johnson is licensed to practice law in the state of Georgia. Ms. Johnson was born in the metro-Atlanta area and has spent most of her life in Georgia. She received her Bachelor of Science in Political Science from Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia in 1998. Ms. Johnson received her Juris Doctor from Mercer University School of Law in 2002.  Since graduating from law school, Ms. Johnson has practiced in the area of family law. Additionally, she has worked in general civil practice, immigration, and estate planning. Ms. Johnson has briefed two cases successfully before the Georgia Court of Appeals, one of which was a modification of custody action.

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8 Comments on "Options for Child Support When Unemployed"

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1 month 13 days ago

My company is outsourcing and I’m about to be laid off. I’m looking for a new job, but am worried about the possibility of being unemployed and unable to make the support payments. Do I need to wait until I’m formally laid off before applying for the modification action, or is this something I can prepare ahead of time?

4 months 22 days ago

I’ve been unemployed for 5 months. Petitioned the court and the judge still says that I’m to pay 1982 dollars a month. That has left me with 700 dollars a month to live on and has rendered me homeless with no help. How is this fair to the child. I’m not a deadbeat. I see my daughter every day.

5 months 28 days ago
I have 2 sons aged 29 and 34. I’ve been working since highschool before I had a heart attack in 2003. With the economy so bad I didn’t find a job until 2015. I have no diploma or a G.E.D. every application was turned down. The back money is from my second child because my first child was an adult while I was working.The second child was 15 when I lost my job.They both dropped out of school before I stopped working.I owe $8000 in back payments.I’m 60 years old and I barely make ends meet let alone go to… Read more »
7 months 19 days ago

My ex-husband and I have been divorced a month now and he was supposed to pay $200/month for child support because he got out of the Army and I felt sorry for him…he haven’t paid anything and the bad part is he comes to see his child once a week sometimes its two weeks and lives 10 minutes away. He makes up all types of excuses to the child why he can’t come. That’s what you call a big time DEADBEAT

Mark White
1 year 1 month ago
Today is the day.. We as equal has failed to be as such in a class. These legal terms have made many men and women outlaws. From the fact of sharing a moment of passion. Our former ancestors fight to be free for this. No..!! I’d say to the people that sat there with their suits on in their high chairs. Speaking for millions of fathers and mothers. On a account of who should pay for conceiving a child together. The law is unfair, unjust, a impeachment of legal rights made legal. To only one side of the case.Laws have… Read more »
1 year 3 months ago
That’s right guys keep current on your payments. The payments are for your kids anyway. Oh wait no they’re not. If they were really out to get money for the kids then dead beat moms would be held to the same accountability. Funny how when I got custody of my son it took 1.5 years to even get her to court so a payment could be awarded. Then 2.5 years later not one dollar had been paid. At this time one of the reps on the phone told me they “were thinking about revoking her drivers license.” Next week my… Read more »
tash jones
2 years 25 days ago

need help
my child father owe $41,000 in arrears. He loss his job from illegal activities and haven’t paid in full in 7 years and now has paid at all in 1 year. He filed a modification and I filed intentional contempt not to pay. What do you think will happen in court. In those 7 years, this is the first time I am filing a violation. He has made a child, went to jail for 8 months, came out and got married and almost had another child that was miscarried.

3 years 6 months ago
Voluntary unemploymentI have a question. I took my ex-wife back to court in Jun 2012 to gain custody of our 6 year old son. I won and now have primary physical custody; she lives in North Dakota. This was a modification of the original parenting plan/divorce decree finalized in Sep 2011. She told me yesterday that she is quitting her job this summer and while she has our son for 6-weeks this summer, she is not going to pay child support. Her child support is only $200 a month, so she is not going to be paying me $300. In… Read more »