What To Know About Unemployment and Child Support

What To Know About Unemployment and Child Support

What To Know About Unemployment and Child Support

Washington state courts emphasize the best interests of children when examining proposed divorce settlements and in determining child support. They will look at a couple’s combined gross income, remove allowable deductions, and arrive at an amount each parent should pay that the court deems fair and according to state laws.

Going through a divorce when unemployed or losing a job after child support payments have begun, can create financial hardship for parents. But hardship does not absolve a parent from paying for child support. Here is what to know about unemployment and child support in Washington state.

Unemployment Benefits Count As Income

During divorce proceedings, each parent will be required to complete a schedule showing their gross income (income from all sources, including investment income and interest, before taxes). Unemployment benefits, social security, and disability payments may count in the calculation of income, and the Division of Child Support (DCS) can withhold up to 50 percent of your unemployment benefit to ensure support is timely paid.

Net income after allowable deductions, like mandatory union dues, and legitimate business expenses for self-employed parents, determines the amount each parent will pay toward support.

If one parent becomes unemployed for reasons that they cannot control, and no fault of their own, then it is necessary to contact a family law attorney to determine what options you have to lower your child support payments to something more managible. Note however that if you then became employed and make more than what your support was based upon, either spouse or the state can open a case to adjust upwards so that state laws for support payments are followed.

If you quit your job or otherwise become unemployed by choice, then the Court will consider you to be voluntarily unemployed and will keep your income at the amount that you historically made. So, avoiding payment of support will not give you the outcome you wanted.

Calculating Each Parent’s Share of Support

Both parents will be expected to contribute to child support, even an unemployed parent. If one parent makes more money than the other, that parent will pay a percentage of joint net income that reflects the percentage attributable to their individual income.

The Court also considers who pays insurance, the residential schedule, travel expenses, cost of daycare, or other costs that the child requires to determine the support payment amount.

Imputed Income

Sometimes, a parent will intentionally remain unemployed or underemployed as a way to avoid child support payments. The court can easily detect this type of subterfuge and will not accept it as an excuse to get out of paying child support.

The court will look at the past few years of income, education, training, and job experience and calculate an amount the un- or underemployed parent could be earning if they were working at their potential employment level.

Legitimate or Involuntary Unemployment

When parents who are able to work lose their jobs, they are expected to make every effort to obtain employment to maintain child support responsibilities, even if it means working two jobs.

Involuntary unemployment is not the same as losing a job—it means being unable to work due to a disability or illness. If you cannot work, you will have to prove it, with evidence of the injury or illness and of social security disability or supplemental security income payments. Often this requires a medical assessment that says that you are currently unable to work.

What To Do if You Cannot Pay

When you have a sudden and significant change in your circumstances, like losing a job, you can ask your support enforcement officer for a modification review to adjust your child support payments. If you qualify, the matter goes back to court. If you do not meet the requirements for a child support adjustment by the state, then you can file a request for modification yourself.

LaCoste Family Law is a firm with child support lawyers in Washington that can help you seek a modification of child support due to unemployment. You will still have to make diligent efforts to find a new job, preferably with an income near what you used to make, but in the meantime, our lawyers can help you ask the court to reduce your payment to a manageable level until you get back on your feet.