Things aren’t easy these days. And when you put your original divorce agreement in place, you probably had steady employment. Things were better, and you felt relatively comfortable providing your co-parent with the money your kids need to live and thrive. Then, a few years later, you lose your job – cutbacks, layoffs, it’s happening to everyone.
The big question is, how do you handle your child support obligations when you’re laid off and looking for a job?
The most important thing to remember is that losing your job does not exempt you from paying child support. What you should do first is let your co-parent, and the court, know that you’ve lost your job. Then, see if you’re eligible for Tennessee unemployment benefits.
If you’re unable to pay your required child support because you lost your income, you may be able to petition for a modification of your divorce order. However, it can take a while to get a hearing, so it’s important you don’t drag your feet on this – a modification of support only goes back to the date of the filing, not the date you lost your job.
To be eligible for a modification of your child support order, you must show a significant change in circumstances. Typically, a job loss satisfies this requirement. The TN Department of Human Resources defines what comprises a “significant change in circumstances” for either spouse to file for modification of child support:
- Either party has an additional child for whom the party is legally responsible and actually supporting who was not included on the most recent credit worksheet.
- Either party has a qualified other child who was included on the last credit worksheet who has emancipated or is deceased.
- Either party has a significant change in income. This change could be from a job loss or change in employment, an inheritance, lottery winnings, or other source.
- A child supported by the order has become disabled.
Tennessee does consider job loss as a change in circumstances. To change an order, the Dept. of Human Services requires a minimum 15% difference (7.5% for low-income providers) between the amount of the existing order and the amount of the proposed new order.
Next, the court holds an order modification hearing to review your request. They consider any benefits you’re currently receiving, like unemployment or severance, and take those into account when determining new child support guidelines. If you don’t receive unemployment or have any income coming in, the court might rule to temporarily suspend or reduce your support payments. Then, when you go back to work, they’ll reinstate the payments appropriately.
Remember, though, suspending these payments doesn’t mean they disappear. You’ll have to make up for them later, so you can’t avoid paying child support by avoiding looking for a job. (Just in case you were wondering.)
We understand that losing a job is stressful, on the wallet and the psyche. But even if you’re not ready to tell everyone you were laid off, if you have child support obligations, you need to act fast so you don’t fall into arrears. Talk to the experienced and compassionate attorneys at LaFevor & Slaughter today. To set up a consultation, call our Knoxville office at (865) 637-6258 or use our contact form to schedule an appointment.
Patrick Slaughter is an experienced Knoxville attorney passionate about helping families resolve legal issues including divorce, family law matters and immigration. Patrick graduated from Lincoln Memorial University – Duncan School of Law, summa cum laude and is a published author. Patrick is a member of the Knoxville Bar Association as well as the Tennessee Bar Association. Contact Patrick Slaughter at (865) 637-6258 or by filling out a case evaluation below.