What Happens to Child Support When an Ex is Laid Off?

There are hundreds of thousands of newly-unemployed people in the U.S. We asked family law attorneys in several states for their advice, both for the ex who pays and the ex who receives child support.

Many of the attorneys recommended that the unemployed person contact the attorney involved in establishing child support immediately. (Note: The information WHN gathered is not to be used in lieu of legal advice. This information is not meant to replace legal advice, and it may not represent the laws in your state. This is only written to give you ideas about questions to ask your attorney and things you might expect to encounter during the process. Contact a trusted legal professional for any legal needs you may have.)

Take Action

  • WHN TIP: MOVE FAST. Child support issues may not move quickly through the courts – HOWEVER – you must take action quickly. Experts say that in Minnesota alone child support modification requests rose from 10,000 in 2007 to over 14,000 in 2008. Although courts are obligated to make support systems fair for all parties, the judges in Minneapolis’ Hennepin County are now faced with 1,000 cases per judge each year. This overload is one more sign of how the new economy affects our citizens.

From the office of Fred Adams (fred@fsalaw.net) in Dallas, TX comes an explanation about the urgency of taking action. “If the payor loses his job, file a motion to modify the child support immediately so that arrearages do not begin or continue to accrue,” he says. “Once an arrearage has accrued, the courts in Texas have no ability to reduce that amount.” Bottom line? “Be proactive,” he continues. “Child support can always be raised once he regains employment status.”

“If you are the recipient of child support and your ex loses their job, consider agreeing to a reduction on a temporary basis (after the court grants a Temporary Order) so that it will be easier to restore the child support to its original level once your ex becomes employed again,” Mr Adams advises. “Remember that informal agreements are not binding on the court. The agreement needs to be included in an Order entered with the court.”

There may be options available on a free or sliding-scale basis if fees will create a burden. “If a person becomes unemployed and can’t pay support, they should contact the court where the child support order was filed and see if these programs exist,” Sherrie Bennett (sbennett@gfj.com) of Seattle, WA recommends. “If there are free or sliding-scale self-help programs, often volunteers can walk an individual through the process and help fill out the forms to request a modification in child support.”

She also advises checking with the local bar association for the possibility of free assistance. “The most important thing for a person who cannot afford child support is to get into court right away rather than letting back support stack up. It is very difficult to dig out of a backlog later,” Ms. Bennett says.

If you are the recipient of child support and your ex becomes unemployed, there are steps to take. “Pursue the claim in Family court and make your ex prove they are unemployed and can’t find other work,” explains Douglas M. Colbert (DMC1NYLAWYER@AOL.COM) of New York city. “The burden of proof is your ex’s responsibility.”

In the meantime, Mr. Colbert recommends filing for welfare or any other government benefits you and your child(ren) are eligible for.

If you are in the same city as your ex, there are creative ways the unemployed spouse can help ease the stress of the financial situation until a new job is found. “You can use your time to help your ex with the child(ren)’s expenses while you look for work,” Carol Bailey (CBailey@integrativefamilylaw.com) in Seattle says. “Take on more child care responsibilities such as replacing a day care provider, driving the child(ren) to and from school and after-school activities. You can also volunteer for school, athletic and recreational activities so the other parent can work.”

Ms. Bailey also suggests trying to barter for goods and attempting to earn money doing things you’ve never been paid for before. Exchange skills for money, store credit or goods. Consider providing carpentry, painting, car washing, cleaning, editing, babysitting, elder care, bookkeeping, shopping, gardening and other services in exchange for necessities.

Of course, the most amicable way to deal with a situation such as job loss is to discuss it with your ex first.

Keith Allen (attny36@yahoo.com) in Rancho Cucamonga, CA, says, “Find out if your ex is willing to work with you to make an agreement either to suspend or modify support while you are unemployed. This reduces possible animosity, legal fees and/or lost wages. Modification levels are defined by state guidelines and you can find a ‘dissomaster’ child support calculator online. The guidelines are based upon either unemployment benefits or, if no benefits exist, whatever amounts the two parents can agree to.”

With that information in hand, the parents can draft a stipulation themselves, go to the Family court self-help clinic at the courthouse or pay a paralegal or attorney to draft the stipulation. To be finalized, the stipulation must be submitted to the court for signature, according to Mr. Allen.

He goes on to explain that, if the recipient parent believes that their ex is intentionally not working or not seeking re-employment, they can apply for County support which is based upon the recipient’s income level. The County will most likely seek reimbursement from the ex for any monies paid according to their actual income or ability to earn. The County will likely request and obtain a “seek work” order against the ex-spouse. The out of work parent should retain proof of all job applications to show the judge the efforts they are making to become re-employed.

If both parents lose their jobs, it is still mandatory to file any revised agreements with the court.

Remember to act immediately when there is a “change in circumstances” such as a job loss by either or both parents. Avoiding the issue will make resolution much more difficult.

If something occurs that affects your ability to pay or the amount you need to receive from your ex, speak with the attorney who assisted you with the original child support Order. If that isn’t possible, search for an attorney in your area at www.martindale.com. This site lists law firms including individual attorneys, their specialties and qualifications. Many offer free initial consultations.

Another resource is located at www.abanet.org, the American Bar Association site.

  • WHN TIP: According to some national news reports, analysts predict that job losses will continue throughout 2009. Plan now in the event this happens to you or your ex. The children’s health and well-being are of utmost importance and changes in child support could pose a host of challenges for everyone involved.
  • WHN TIP: Whether you are employed or not, there is a great website for people who are interested in joining a group where the members share your interests. Not only will you have a chance to network and make new friends, you can get some valuable input from people who might share some of your experiences. The website registration is easy and free. You will be amazed by the number of groups meeting to play cards, learn meditation, lose weight, exercise and the list goes on and on. Try it out at www.meetup.com. Simply enter your zip code and your area(s) of interest for a sample of what is available. You can narrow it down by the number of miles you are willing to travel as well. The only cost would occur if the group you choose charges a fee. (During registration, click on the website’s policy statement to learn more.)

For information or to share your experiences, email me: LeannĀ (at) WhatHappensNow.com.

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