Unemployment And Child Support: Can I Be Ordered To Pay?

No one wants to lose their job or become unemployed. Everyone has bills to pay, needs to keep roofs over their heads and food in their stomachs. For parents, you also need to do the same for minor children. Unfortunately, unemployment is a reality. In fact, the majority of people will experience being unemployed at some point in their life. And while we can all hope that it doesn’t last for very long, the question arises, particularly for parents, whether you can be forced to pay your child support obligation if you are or become unemployed? The simple answer is: Yes!

In Virginia, both parents of a child (whether they are the biological parent(s), legal adoptive parent(s) or both) have an obligation to financially support their child. This means providing basic food, shelter and other necessary living expenses for your child. For divorced, separated or never married parents, you may be bound by a court order to pay monthly child support to the custodial parent of your child.

When a judge determines how much child support you will be obligated to pay, they will typically use Virginia’s child support guidelines which are based on your gross annual income. Even if you are unemployed, you still probably earn an income for the purposes of child support. This is because payments from social security, social security disability, dividends from investments you own and unemployment insurance benefits that you receive are considered income and can be used (or garnished) to pay for child support. However, the judge can also impute income – meaning the court assumes you could be or should be making more money (even if you aren’t) and bases your child support obligation on this higher, imputed income amount.

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Why would the court impute income? The court will impute income because it feels that you are voluntarily unemployed or underemployed. A judge will consider you voluntarily un/underemployed if it appears that you are not doing anything to actively seek a job, you work or transfer to a job that pays you significantly less than you could or should be making (based on your training, experience or the jobs available to you), and/or you fail to truthfully report your full financial information to the court or attempt to hide assets. Under these circumstances, the judge will (based on the evidence) simply assume that you make a certain amount of money more than you have revealed and base your child support obligation on this amount. If you fail to pay this sum, then the court may order any and all of your wages, assets or benefits be garnished to satisfy the child support payment(s).

However, a court will not impute income if you show that you are involuntarily unemployed. Situations in which you may be involuntarily unemployed are: if you have never been employed and have no adequate training/experience for a suitable job, there is no suitable daycare for your child and are forced to stay home (not work) and care for your child, you are currently in school or in job training to one day have a job where you can make a living, or you are unable to work due to a mental and/or physical disability. In these types of situations, the court will not assume you have more income or could make more money when determining your child support obligation.

It is important to remember, though, that if you do find yourself in one of these scenarios but receive unemployment insurance or disability benefits, these payments will be considered income and will be used in calculating your child support obligation.

So, even if you are or find yourself unemployed, you can still be forced to pay child support. This is particularly true if the court finds that your unemployment is voluntary or an attempt to earn less income so that your support obligation will be lower.     

If you are dealing with a child support issue, whether or not you or your ex-spouse is employed, or have any other family law matter, you should consult with one of our family law attorneys. Our lawyers are experienced with all family law issues in jurisdictions across Northern Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC. Contact us today at (703) 370 – 5555.

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