If you pay child support each month, a job loss can be especially stressful. The situation may bring up questions about how this sudden change in income will affect your obligation to continue your payments, if at all. Many parents assume they are no longer expected to comply with their child support order unless they find similar employment. A substantial change in circumstances can be grounds for modifying child support.
But family law is rarely that simple. The answer to whether your child support order can be modified is: it depends.
How Is Child Support Calculated in Illinois?
The primary goal of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) is to ensure that children receive the support they deserve. However, in determining the amount of child support allocations, they also focus on maintaining fairness to both parents and factor in challenging circumstances such as unemployment.
The amount mandated by the court is based on both parents’ income, the number of minor children, and other guidelines. As each case is unique, the percentage of parenting time and other considerations might also play a role in determining what amount will be owed each month.
Modification Due to Job Loss
The most important element in a modification case will be the circumstances surrounding the change in employment status. A court will likely base its decision on the circumstances surrounding the loss of a job. The fact is, some details surrounding a job loss will be up to the interpretation of the court. If misconduct at work got the paying spouse fired, for instance, it’s more likely that their request for modification will be denied than if they were let go through no fault of their own.
Prepare to Present “Good Faith” Evidence
Whether someone left a job in “good faith” is up to the interpretation of a judge. The expression is generally defined as honesty in a person’s conduct during a legal agreement he or she made. If your motive is perceived to be a desire to evade financial responsibility for the support of your children, that will not present a “good faith” argument to the court. As a result, your child support obligation will not likely be reduced.
The same can be said for a spouse who voluntarily leaves his or her employment for a new job that results in less income. If that person wants to modify their support obligation, they may be asked to show that the decision to change jobs was made in good faith – in other words, not as an attempt to pay less in child support.
Petition the Court
If you believe you have a legitimate case, you may petition the court for a reduction in child support. You’ll have to show that you lost the job through no fault of your own and were not motivated by evasion of financial responsibility to your children. However, if you don’t let the court know about your change in financial circumstances, it will be assumed that you are still able to make payments. As the decision is ultimately up to the courts, an experienced family law attorney familiar with modification cases can walk you through the petition process and make sure you present the necessary evidence for your request.
How Will I Pay Child Support While Unemployed?
Even if you left your job in good faith, the court may order you to continue paying a small amount of child support while unemployed. The original amount will be modified to a lower amount that reflects your new financial situation. If you file for unemployment insurance benefits (UIB) in Illinois, child support payments can be deducted from those benefits. You might be ordered to take other actions, as well, such as looking for a job or submitting a certain number of job applications every month.
Will the Ruling Be Enforceable?
Both state and federal law takes child support obligations very seriously, as the well-being of millions of children relies on these payments being made. There are serious consequences for failing to pay court-ordered child support in Illinois.
Penalties can include:
- Wage garnishment;
- Travel restrictions;
- Financial penalties; and
At the Law Office of David A. King, P.C., our top-rated divorce and family law attorneys can answer any of your questions about how a job loss might affect your case. Call us at (630) 504-7210 if you are seeking counsel to modify your child support order. We encourage parents who are behind on their support due to a job loss or similar challenge to reach out, as well, so that we can help prevent further legal action and get you caught up with your payments.