If you’re a divorced dad who suddenly finds himself out of work, you’re probably concerned about what happens with child support when unemployed. This unexpected transition can spell financial catastrophe.
Suddenly, you’re scrambling to figure out how to pay child support with no job or how to get child support reduced. Some fathers try paying what they can afford until they find work while others try making out-of-court agreements with their ex for temporary modifications.
Both of these approaches are wrong because of how child support law functions.
Paying what you can afford
When their employment status leaves them where they can’t afford child support, many divorced dads will continue paying child support with no job to temporarily make ends meet but only pay what they can afford. This might be better than not paying child support at all, but it’s still not the best course of action.
When you only pay what you can afford, you start accumulating child support arrearage. Before you know it, you’re behind on child support and stuck in a never-ending cycle of debt that eventually results in your ex filing a contempt action. In some cases, you can even get jail time for child support arrears.
The sad irony is that when you’re in jail for child support, that debt can continue mounting since many dads are unsure how to go about getting child support reduced or paused while they’re incarcerated.
If you end up facing a contempt action, you’re likely to owe much more money and will have to pay additional court fees and cover litigation costs. If you owe a couple thousand dollars in back child support and your ex filed a contempt action, you won’t be able to avoid paying the arrears.
If you’re found in contempt of court for failing to pay child support, odds are you’ll be required to pay your ex-spouse’s legal expenses in the contempt action as well since she would not have had that expense if you’d made your regular payments.
Plus you’re likely to take on some legal fees of your own since you’ll probably need an attorney to represent you in the contempt case. Suddenly, your arrearage that was a couple thousand bucks has mushroomed into a $10,000 expense with jail time as the alternative for non-payment.
An informal agreement with your ex-spouse could work for a while, but it also has the potential to backfire. Out-of-court agreements do not supersede your court-ordered child support obligation.
You and your spouse might agree to temporarily lower payments, but at any time she can change her mind and hold you in contempt for not paying the court-ordered about. Your “agreement” isn’t enforceable.
You might get along well with your ex initially, but things could change if you get in an argument or if she finds her bank account tightening. The money you didn’t pay could be an easy way for her to stabilize her finances.
File for modification
If you are unemployed, receive a reduced salary, or have some other involuntary loss of income, your best course of action is to file a petition to modify child support immediately.
Many states allow for a modification of child support after a substantial change in financial circumstances warranting a recalculation of the child support amount. This might also include a significant increase in the custodial parent’s income.
There are major advantages to filing a modification action as quickly as possible.
In many states, courts will modify your child support order starting at the time that you file a petition to modify support. Filing a petition for modification will also likely safeguard you from a potential contempt action.
However, it’s important to realize that the court can refuse to retroactively modify a support order back to the filing date. Your odds of obtaining a favorable decision on retroactive modification will increase if you file immediately after your change in income so that minimal arrearage accrues before filing.
Unemployment and child support is tricky business. Courts are typically unforgiving when it comes to failure to pay child support and the punishment for not paying child support is often severe.
If you have any questions about ways to reduce child support payments or have concerns about court-ordered child support not being paid, it’s always a good idea to get in touch with a divorce attorney in your area to help you through the process. They can help you determine if you can afford paying child support while unemployed or help you figure out how to get child support lowered.