I Lost My Job! Can I Skip My Child Support Payments?
By: Alyson Falk and Jodi Lazar
Job loss is unfortunately a reality for many millions of Americans right now. Depending on your field of employment, you may not be able to find a new job right away, you may have to take a job that pays you less, or you may be receiving unemployment (a fraction of your prior income) for an extended period of time.
In Texas, if you are Court-ordered to pay child support, you are still required to pay the full amount of your monthly child support obligation until you have a new order modifying the amount you are to pay. You will be in arrears if you just stop paying child support, which, if left unaddressed, can lead to serious consequences.
If you are the child support obligor and you lose your job, you need to notify the other parent and the Office of Attorney General Child Support Division immediately. A job loss is a material and substantial change in circumstance, and you will need to work through terms for a modification.
When you are a child support obligor, and you lose your job, you must make every effort to obtain resources. If you have a severance package from your termination, that will be considered income for purposes of calculating child support. You should file for unemployment. Unemployment benefits are considered resources for child support, so a new child support amount can be negotiated based off your unemployment income.
You should actively look for new work so that you are able to show the efforts you are making to replace your income.
But unless and until your child support obligation is modified due to your job loss, you are on the hook for the entire amount of child support ordered by the court, and you must do the following:
If your former employer withheld your child support payments from your regular paychecks, you must now pay the full amount of your child support obligation to the State Disbursement Unit yourself. Instructions for this payment can be found in your child support order.
If you no longer earn enough money from a single employer to cover your full child support obligation, then it is still your responsibility to pay to the State Disbursement Unit the remaining amount of your monthly obligation. Again, the instructions for paying the State Disbursement Unit can be found in your child support order.
Continue to Make Regular Payments
Even when it seems impossible, it is important that you pay as much as you can toward your child support obligation each month until you either have a new job and can pay it in full, or are able to modify your child support obligation.
Continuing to make regular payments, rather than paying $0.00, are an important defense if Enforcement proceedings are brought against you.
If you stop paying your support obligation all together, you can face serious financial and personal penalties, so it is so very important to meet with a Texas family lawyer as soon as your employment status changes to evaluate your support modification options.
If you have been Court-ordered to pay child support, you may also be the parent who is court-ordered to provide health insurance (medical, dental, vision) for a child. If you lose the coverage available to you, you must notify the other parent and the Office of the Attorney General right away.
Your order should contain terms that outline your obligations with respect to replacement insurance. If you are required to provide health insurance, you should immediately find out what coverage is available to you on the open market. Find out from your former employer what your options are to continue your employer-provided coverage (known as COBRA for employer covered by federal law requirements, but Texas has state law requirements for continued coverage depending on the size of the company). Then compare that coverage and cost to the policies available to you on the open market. Your co-parent may have coverage available to them that is preferable due to coverage and cost. In short order before coverage lapses, you need to evaluate all these options and determine how to continue to maintain coverage for your children without lapse.
Your court order should address how to handle replacement coverage and may not require a modification; however, it is possible that new coverage means that your court order does need to be modified, even if you and your co-parent agree, especially if the Office of Attorney General is collecting medical support from you. These changes often need to be handled properly with the Office of Attorney General so that they make the proper changes in their system, avoiding legal issues down the road.
Modification of Child Support
Modifications of child support in Texas are not automatic or guaranteed. A job loss is certainly an important factor to modify child support, but it is to be considered in context of many other considerations. While the Attorney General may consider your circumstances, you are not entitled to an automatic review just because you lost your job. The Attorney General may refuse to modify child support or may take a long time to review your case. Meanwhile, your child support obligation remains the same, and you must pay, or you will be falling behind and in legal arrears.
It is important that you meet with an experienced family law attorney as soon as there has been a change in your employment status to discuss the effect it may have on your child support obligation and to consider filing a petition for modification as soon as possible. Once a petition for modification is filed, you may seek temporary orders for a reduction in child support pending your new employment.
If you are worried about your support payment obligations and need to request a modification, talk to a lawyer. At Lazar Law, our experienced family law attorneys are here to help. We have the knowledge, skills, and resources to guide you through the process and to work quickly so that you do not fall behind. Call 512-477-1600 today.