Divorce and Finances

Can I Modify My Child Support Payments While I’m Unemployed?

If you have become unemployed and are facing financial hardship, you may be eligible to adjust your child support payments. Learn more about the process you need to follow to initiate this modification. 

Child Support Payment Modification While Unemployed

Steps for attempting a modification

Long stretches of unemployment can be hard on your personal finances and especially stressful if your savings are dwindling and you're worried that you might have to choose between paying your bills and making your monthly child support payments. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to try to modify your obligations, either temporarily or permanently. Here's what you need to know:

If you lose your job, your child support obligation will remain the same unless you or your attorney files a court order for a child support modification. If you miss payments or are unable to make payments in full while you are out of work, you will still be responsible for what is owed. Keep in mind that such debts do not go away even if you were to declare personal bankruptcy. It's important to note that if you owe back payments, your former spouse could try to collect by having your future wages or other sources of income garnished.

A substantial change in your circumstances (or your child's) usually merits a child support modification order, however, the judge may or may not agree that your short or long-term unemployment qualifies as a “substantial change.” The fact is, he or she may discover plenty of money in your personal finances for child support payments. For example, money from your severance package, unemployment benefits, certain disability benefits, etc., can all be used for child support payments, and in some states, it can even be withheld from your regular payments automatically.

If you've recently become unemployed and are a noncustodial parent who makes regular child support payments, it may be in your best interest to keep a log of your attempts to find work. Such documentation may be beneficial when the judge reviews your case, especially if you remain unemployed for a substantial period of time.

It's important to talk to your former spouse about making a temporary modification to your child support payments before you go to court. The child support modification process will be much easier for both of you if you can reach an agreement ahead of time and present a unified front before the judge. It's always possible that your ex's financial life has significantly improved since you last checked in, and a temporary reduction in child support may not be as detrimental to their personal finances as you previously thought.

If you're a paying parent experiencing an extended financial hardship, it's essential to file a motion for child support modification with the court, regardless of what type of arrangement you may have discussed with your former spouse. Informal agreements will not protect you from a legal perspective. Remember, you will still be required to pay exactly what the court ordered you to pay in your divorce agreement until your modification is approved. In some cases, however, the modification order can work retroactively, and take effect on the date it was filed.

If you need to learn more about how this process works in your state, or you'd like to file such an order ASAP, talk to a licensed family law attorney licensed in your state. You can also find helpful financial tips for those about to remarry, and advice about creating a financially stable life after divorce in our Protective Learning Center.

Disclaimer: Divorce and laws surrounding child support will differ from state to state. If you're looking for legal advice on child support payment modification, speak to a licensed family law attorney.


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Can I Modify My Child Support Payments While I'm Unemployed?

A divorce can have a significant impact on your personal finances. If you're required to pay child support to your former spouse and find yourself unemployed, you may be able to legally modify your payment structure. This article presents some basic information on how a noncustodial parent may be able to modify child support payments when faced with unemployment. For more information, visit the Protective Life Learning Center.

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