Options for maintaining child support while unemployed

The circumstances of your life are constantly changing, but that doesn’t mean your obligation to pay child support will. California requires both parents to help meet the financial needs of raising their child or children. So while changes in your income can alter your responsibility somewhat, you still need to go through the legal process to make it official and avoid punishment. But what can you do when you’re unemployed and have no income? 

At Azemika & Azemika Law, we specialize in many aspects of Kern County family law, including maintaining child support during difficult times. Because California courts make child support judgments in the best interest of the child, there are times when you may feel the amount you must pay is overwhelming or unrealistic. Thankfully, there are solutions available to ensure you keep making your payments on time—and we can help you sort through the options that best match your situation.

In this article, we’ll outline how different forms of unemployment can impact your child support obligations. We’ll also analyze how courts can calculate changes to your payment obligation should you find yourself unemployed. Then, with the help of an experienced family law attorney in Bakersfield, you can take the necessary steps to adjust your child support payments. 

Types of Unemployment

For child support, California considers three different types of unemployment:

  • Voluntary unemployment, wherein a parent chooses not to work (or loses their job) but doesn’t seek new employment.
  • Involuntary unemployment, where a parent loses their job through circumstances beyond their control and is unable to secure work despite their best efforts.
  • Voluntary underemployment, which sees a parent choosing to work less or receiving total income less than they were when the judge issued the initial child support order.

A judge will look at your specific circumstances to determine whether or not an adjustment to your child support order is valid. Understandably, courts don’t view all cases with sympathy. For example, if you quit your job and opt not to look for a new job, that’s a personal decision within your control that will warrant an adjustment.

A judge is more likely to adjust if you can demonstrate that the reason for your job loss or underemployment wasn’t your choice. For example, suppose budget cuts resulted in your termination, and you have been diligently searching for a new job. In that case, it’s more likely that a judge will alter the original support order until you can find employment. However, if you were terminated due to poor performance or bad behavior and still can’t find a job, that’s not out of your control.

However, the circumstances of why you’re unemployed aren’t the only factor determining a change in a child support order. Besides investigating cases, California courts must decide what you should still pay, if anything, following state guidelines. To do this, they use imputed income to make a final calculation.

What Is Imputed Income?

Imputed income could be thought of as a baseline salary you could be making if you were still working full-time. However, rather than look at the job you previously held, courts usually use state or federal minimum wage guidelines to determine what you should continue paying. While this doesn’t altogether remove your child support responsibilities, it could reduce them considerably. 

Another purpose of imputed income is to punish parents who are acting in bad faith. For example, a parent who goes out of their way to get fired, or chooses to quit and not seek work, could be doing so intending to hurt their former spouse. Imputed income ensures they can’t weaponize unemployment against their ex-partner or their child.

Imputed income isn’t always used by courts when a parent is suffering hardships, however. For example, if you’re able to demonstrate that you’re putting in your best effort to secure work or have a valid reason for not seeking employment (like staying home to care for a loved one), imputed income likely won’t come into play. Instead, a judge may make a temporary change in your payments until you find work or can return to work.

What Counts As Income?

When they crafted your initial child support order, the courts looked at more than your employment wages to determine what you should pay. These revenue streams, such as stocks, bonds, and other investments, contributed to that final figure. So even when you’re unemployed, those additional revenue streams will still count towards your total income. 

That being the case, you may need to sell some assets to illustrate that you’re doing everything you can to meet your payment obligations, even if you aren’t actively earning an income from working. It’s a factor in showing that you’re doing everything to meet your obligations. However, this doesn’t apply to all assets, nor is it a steadfast rule.

You Can Count on Azemika Law

The complexities of child support laws can be overwhelming on their own, but meeting your responsibilities on top of unemployment can feel like an impossible task. However, how you try to solve the problem can significantly impact your future, so it’s best to work with Bakersfield’s best family law attorneys.

That’s where we come in.

At Azemika & Azemika Law, we have expertise in family law, including child support, child custody and visitation, father visitation, and divorce. Let us help you navigate these and other changes in your family life with compassion and understanding. Reach out to our office now to discuss your needs and learn what we can do for you.