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Do I Have to Pay Child and Spousal Support If I Lose My Job?

When couples divorce, they are required to decide how spousal and child support will be handled. Spousal support isn't always something couples agree to, but child support is required by law. In California, both parents are responsible for supporting their children financially. The amount each parent provides will be enforced with a court order. If a parent pays less than the court ordered amount, or doesn't pay at all, he or she may be pursued by the law. But what happens if you get fired?

Child Support Payments in California

Under California's Income Shares Model, child support is determined by the principle that children should receive the same amount of parental income they would if the parent still lived in the same house. While it's a basic concept, it's a complicated formula that takes into account the following factors:

  • Each parent's gross income.
  • How much time the child spends with each parent.
  • Which tax deductions each parent is able to claim.
  • Child care costs for each parent.
  • Any deductions from a parent's income, like health insurance or pensions.

These figures are inputted into a calculator which generates a child support amount. In California, the judge is required to use this amount, unless there is good reason to deviate from it. Some reasonable exceptions are if the parent is exceptionally wealthy and the amount of child support would far exceed the child's needs. Another exception is if the child has a special medical condition which requires more money than is determined by the figure.

Changes to Support Payments

Now that we know how support is determined, we can examine what happens when a parent loses his or her source of income. Support orders are not written in stone - they can be changed when necessary. Some of the more common reasons for needing a modification are:

  • One parent lost a job or the income has changed for some other reason.
  • A parent has been incarcerated.
  • The amount of time the child spends with a parent has drastically changed.
  • A parent had another child in another relationship.
  • The child's needs have changed (medical or otherwise).

If the parents agree on the change, they can have the court sign an order. Otherwise, they will need to file a motion, be seen in court, and have the judge make the decision for them.

Imputing Income: When Parents Try to Avoid Child Support

If you are involuntarily unemployed or underemployed (you were fired or your hours were cut) you may be able to modify child support accordingly. If you were fired due to misconduct or illegal activities, it won't be considered legitimate. But, if you legitimately lost your job and are making every effort to find a new one with no luck, the court will not impute your income.

Contact Divorce Attorney for Help with a Modification

Work with an experienced family lawyer when seeking a modification to child support payments. Without an official ruling from a judge, you are breaking the law if you do not pay child support payments.


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