Ask a Divorce Lawyer: My ex won’t get a job because then her support would decrease. How is this fair to me?

Question: My ex lives out of state with our son. She lives with her parents and barely works. In our divorce paperwork, I have to pay at a higher rate because her gross income is less than the federal poverty level. 

This seems ridiculous that she has no incentive to get a raise because then her child support check would shrink. I’m wondering if her lack of a full time job is taken into consideration when child support is calculated

I feel incredibly stuck since I’m paying 25% of my net income.


Unfortunately, your situation is not unique – with our lackluster economy, I see more and more cases of parents struggling to pay child support when they lose their job and others upset when the custodial parent loses a job and appears to live off public assistance and child support. Each case is unique, however, because the outcome is always fact-specific; there are no bright-line rules here. 

Although I am licensed to practice law in Michigan, Cordell & Cordell has attorneys located in Georgia, and I strongly encourage you to consult with an attorney in your state because I can only give you general information. You should not rely upon this information as creating an attorney-client relationship, and you should seek counsel in your area for further instructions and suggestions within the parameters of the laws of your state. 

That being said, there are common themes in child custody and support among states, one of which is that a parent on public assistance is usually not obligated to pay child support. However, that court may impute income to the parent, such as minimum wage, or may determine that the parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed and impute more. The imputation criteria vary by state. You should consult with an attorney in your area to discuss what options, if any, you have based on the particular orders and facts in your case.   


Jennifer M. Paine is an Associate Attorney in the Detroit, Michigan office of Cordell & Cordell P.C. She is licensed to practice in Michigan, and has been admitted pro hac vice in Illinois, Ohio, and the United States Court of Federal Claims. Ms. Paine received her BA in English and Mathematics from Albion College and graduated Summa Cum Laude. She received her Juris Doctorate from MSU College of Law and graduated Summa Cum Laude.

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One comment on “Ask a Divorce Lawyer: My ex won’t get a job because then her support would decrease. How is this fair to me?

    My ex has not paid child support in almost 2 years. He refuses to get a job because he will be garnished and therefore has not filed taxes. I live in Montana and was wondering what my options are? Does the state pay back support and then go after him? Thank you!

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