Losing a job is a life changing event and can be made even more upsetting if you are responsible for paying child support every month. Many parents automatically assume that the loss of income means child support payments will stop until a new one is found, but the truth is that just because your circumstances have changed, doesn’t mean your child’s needs are altered in any way. Bills still need to be paid, food and clothing still need to be provided for. It can be tempting to allow yourself to wallow a bit in depression before dealing with this loss of work and any repercussions there might be, but the truth is the sooner you deal with your legal financial obligations to your offspring, the better for everyone involved.
Start by openly communicating with your former partner about your change in circumstances. Instead of approaching that person with a tone of “Oh My Gosh, I lost my job, I can’t pay child support until I get a new one!”, begin the conversation from a place of advice-seeking, for example, “John! I was let go from my company. How can I make the money I do have work for us? Is there anything we can agree to let go or postpone during this leaner time?” Hopefully, you are in a good enough place with your ex to have that conversation. Remember, this is about the well being of the kids, so any efforts to demonstrate your willingness to contribute is important AND noticeable. Throwing up your hands in defeat without coming to some sort of alternative plans helps no one and puts you in the position of seeming selfish.
Of course, many couples can’t communicate well despite the interests of the children, in which case getting your documents in order is a must before seeking legal approval from a judge to officially modify child support. You will need to provide all bank statements, bills, and most importantly, proof of your loss of income. Many times, companies provide a letter or memo of job termination that you can show the court, but if they choose to fire or let you go orally, ask for documentation on letterhead. If they are unable or refuse to accommodate you, write all details down carefully. As with all legal matters, the more documentation you can provide to support your claims, the better the chances for you to have the outcome you desire. Keep in mind that all your assets are considered when evaluating child support, and that includes property, retirement funds, and trusts. A judge is unlikely to believe you are unable to keep up with child support if you own multiple properties or received a generous severance package. Un-employment benefits claimed are also considered to be a form of income and will be tallied with your overall estate to re-assess what you are able to afford to pay on a monthly basis.
You must also report your change in employment status to your local child support office if support is being enforced through their office. This is the office you may already be sending your check to every month, and you can’t simply stop sending those payments without informing them, or you can make your situation worse. In California, the majority of child support cases go through the Child Support Services department in the county or region of residence, which act in the public interest and do not represent either side of a child support case. By bringing your issue directly to them they can create a “record of all child support payments, provide a neutral go-between for parents, and can help both parents avoid court and assist with navigating the child support system.”
The final point of all of this is to prepare yourself BEFORE you lose your job, by getting your records and finances in order and by knowing what to ask for if the worst thing happens in your career, which is that you are unable to make money doing it for however long it takes until you find another job. This way your kids still get their needs met and you don’t have to add “failure to provide” to the list of negatives that inevitably pile up when you are out of a job.