Job loss doesn’t automatically free a non-custodial parent from their monthly child support payments. Additional fines and legal troubles result if the parent doesn’t amend their child support payment in the right way. So what’s a parent to do when their income doesn’t meet their financial obligations?
Any co-parent who has suffered a significant change in income should contact their child support agency for help as soon as possible. That parent will want to file a petition to modify their child support order. To do so, they’ll need to provide valid reasons why they can’t afford to keep up with payments.
The court system strongly believes both parents should play a role in helping children grow and thrive. When a two-income household splits after a divorce, the custodial parent typically needs help paying for child essentials, like clothes, food, child care, and doctor visits. Rarely does a non-custodial parent not pay at least a minimal amount to help out.
Courts look into each case independently when deciding to grant a change to a child support order. They take the following unemployment factors into consideration:
Quitting or getting fired from a job due to preventable factors, such as negligence or criminal wrongdoing, doesn’t absolve a parent from their financial responsibilities.
The specific process of where to file the petition differs from state to state. Generally, you’ll file the petition with the same court that issued the custody support order.
State-, tribal-, county-, and local government-run child support agencies exist to assist parents with child support-related issues, including filing a petition to modify. Your agency may be located within the Department of Social Services, the Department of Revenue, or the Office of the Attorney General.
Child support programs vary but often provide services such as:
Either parent can request a review of their child support order every three years or whenever a substantial change in circumstances has occurred. Job loss counts as a substantial change.
Once the petition goes through the proper channels and a change is granted, it can be made effective back to the date you filed the petition. However, any amounts owed (arrears) before the filing date cannot be erased, regardless of the reason.
Past debts can only be erased when the person owed (usually your co-parent) agrees to waive the amount. Money owed to the government for children receiving public assistance will not be forgiven.
Non-custodial parents almost always pay an amount—as little as $25 to $50 a month, sometimes. A parent must prove they can’t afford even a minimal amount if they hope to be relieved of child support payments. As you can imagine, that isn’t easy to achieve, and the court will consider many factors.
Income from unemployment or worker’s compensation benefits does count towards your available amount for child support payments. Try filing a petition to lower your child support payments if these benefits are less than the income you made while actively working.
Income from public assistance checks doesn’t count towards your available amount for child support payments. Courts won’t know about your reliance on public assistance unless you mention it. Child support payments will never be deducted (garnished) from public assistance money.
One of the first people to contact after you lose your job should be your co-parent. When you and your co-parent can amicably find solutions to shared dilemmas, you’ll avoid the extra costs of repeatedly hiring legal counsel. Try communicating with your co-parent if you’ve lost your job, and put your resolutions in writing.
It can be tricky remembering that child support payment from month to month. Waiting for the check in the mail and then waiting for it to clear can be a slow and sometimes confusing process. Did you mail it? Did they receive it? What did it go towards?
A better, faster, easier, and more transparent way to pay or receive child support payments is through a child support app. You and your co-parent can set and track expenses, request reimbursement for bills, and more easily stick to your child support agreement.
If you lose your job, an app can help you communicate the change in circumstances with your co-parent. They may be more lenient with your upfront honesty. Additionally, an app will document the date you first contacted your co-parent to start strategizing—information that will be helpful when filing a petition to modify the child support order.
Job loss doesn’t stop the clock on your child support payments. At the very least, unpaid amounts and additional fees and fines will continue to pile up. File a petition as soon as possible with the court explaining your circumstances and requesting a modification to your child support order.