When the parents of a minor child live together, both parents are assumed to be contributing to the financial support and emotional growth of the child. If the parents decide to end the marriage, or otherwise live apart, the law imposes a legal obligation on both parents to continue to contribute to the child’s support and maintenance. For the non-custodial parent, this is accomplished through the payment of child support. Once a child support order is established, you are obligated to pay the court ordered amount each month or face sanctions. What happens, however, if you cannot pay? To find out, we asked a Texas child support lawyer “What happens if I lose my job?”
Child support is typically ordered when the parents of a minor child decide to end the marriage or through a paternity action for a child born out of wedlock. When child support is part of a divorce, it will be ordered as a provision in the final judgment of divorce. If a child is born out of wedlock, something that is much more common in the 21st century, the putative father must legally establish paternity over the child. Establishing paternity accomplish two things. First, it gives the father legal rights to the child, such as the right to parenting time and the right to access to the child’s medical records. Second, it creates a legal obligation for the father to financially contribute to the care and maintenance of the child until the child reaches adulthood. Consequently, when paternity is legally established through a formal paternity action, the court will typically order child support as part of the court’s final orders.
Whether through a divorce or a paternity action, once a court has ordered a party to pay child support, the order remains in effect until such time as the court modifies the order. It is crucial for the payor of child support to understand this – and to understand the potential consequences of violating the order. For example, imagine that you are under a court order to pay child support in the amount of $200 per week, but you are having financial difficulties and are struggling to pay your support. Your ex-wife is sympathetic and agrees to accept a lesser amount each week until things turn around for you. Unless you formally return to court and a judge agrees to this modification, the agreement with your ex-wife doesn’t count. Every week you failed to pay the entire $200 you would be in violation of the court’s order
The loss of a job is one of the most common reasons for a payor to request a modification of child support. It is possible to get your child support order modified in Texas if one of the following applies:
It has been three or more years since the order was established or last modified and the monthly amount of the child support ordered differs by either 20 percent or $100 from the amount that would be awarded according to child support guidelines; or
A material and substantial change in circumstances has occurred since the child support order was last set.
If you are seeking a modification based on the loss of your job you would be arguing that it constitutes a “material and substantial change in circumstances.” If the payee does not object, it is helpful; however, ultimately the court will consider things such as your past employment, your ability to work and earn an income, and the current federal minimum wage when deciding whether or not to grant a modification and, if so, in what amount.
Just because you lost your job do not expect the court to waive your support obligation as they will not occur. Unless you are disabled, or temporarily injured, the court will assume you are capable of earning at least minimum wage and base the modified child support order on that assumption. If you have a lengthy job history and/or a higher education, the court may assume you can earn considerably more than minimum wage. Finally, if you voluntarily quit your job without good cause, it will be much more difficult to convince a court that you are entitled to a decrease in your child support order.
If you have additional questions or concerns relating to modifying your child support order, contact an experienced Texas child support lawyer at The Law Office of Jon R. Boyd to schedule your appointment today.