Whether we are in the middle of a virus pandemic caused by the spread of the coronavirus or are just in tough economic times, the loss of your job does not mean that you can stop paying child support. Unfortunately, our area is being hit by difficulties associated with the economy and the virus at the exact same time. The full impact has not been felt fully in southeast Texas as of yet but the I would expect it to be significant for families here.
In times of hardship, facts are your friends. Relying on secondhand information from even well meaning people can lead to poor decision making on your part. If you are responsible for paying child support then you need to pay close attention to the information contained in today’s blog post. Extraordinary circumstances alone do not cause your child support payments to be suspended or negated. Rather, you are still responsible for paying child support no matter how bad this virus gets or how bad the economy turns (at least until further notice from the Texas Supreme Court).
Speak up and say something when your income changes as a result of hard times
It would be expected that many people reading this blog post will suffer some degree of income change during the summer months of 2020. That change could be seen as either a complete job loss or as a reduction in income due to a variety of reasons. If this were to happen to you it is important that you keep in mind that you cannot simply stop paying your child support and then hope that everything works out in the end for you. It almost assuredly will not work out in the end for you if you do not take steps to make that outcome a reality.
The first step towards avoiding a nasty conclusion to a child support case would be to contact the Office of the Attorney General to inform them of your change in income. The Office of the Attorney General is the governmental entity in Texas who administers the payment and receipt of child support. These folks can review your case to determine if any alternative methods can be implemented to ensure that your children are still cared for and you are not put further behind the eight ball metaphorically.
The child support that you are ordered to pay can be modified but only if you are able to show that a significant change in your circumstances has occurred. I am not a judge and am not offering legal advice, but I would reckon that the coronavirus and its impact on our lives is going to be a significant event in the lives of Houstonians and Texans at large.
When it comes to your income, your status as employed vs. unemployed and court ordered child support is concerned, this is how all those concepts come together in Texas family law court.
What to do if you have lost your job due to the coronavirus
Right now, the Houston area is facing a double-whammy of economic troubles in the form of a government mandated shutdown of the economy and an oil crisis created largely due to the aforementioned shutdown. Jobs have been (and will be) lost as a result of these factors. Whether you work in oil and gas or in a job that services those who do, it would be worthwhile for you to learn how to handle the sudden loss of your job and the income that comes along with it.
It is a wise idea to contact the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) as soon as you lose your job. You can talk to one of their representatives about your circumstances. The person on the phone with you cannot do anything on their own to impact your child support responsibilities, however. Only a court order signed by a judge can do that. You will need to continue to make child support payments for as long as you are able.
What commonly happens in a situation where you lose your job is a court order can be set up that modifies your child support obligation. The obligation will not shoot down to zero, but it can be reset to an amount that reflects the national minimum wage and what your income was previously at your most recent place of employment. Looking for work (even if it is not going to be the job of your dreams) is the best, most practical option for you to undertake at that point.
The OAG can review your current child support obligation to determine if a change/modification is in order. The OAG has a number of attorneys who work on their behalf in the family courts of Houston and the surrounding areas. These attorneys can file requests with your family court to modify the amount of child support that you are obligated to pay if your circumstances merit such a lawsuit to be filed.
Your next job may not be the job of your dreams- but something can be better than nothing
As I mentioned a moment ago, if you lose your job you will need to find a new job quickly if you do not want to fall behind in paying your bills- child support included. While many employers in our area are letting go of workers due to the current economic crisis, some are hiring more employees- both temporary and permanent workers.
You may find yourself in a position where, in order to get yourself on a more solid economic footing, you choose to take a job on a temporary basis just to get some money coming into your household. Your new rate of pay may be a fraction of what you were getting paid at your most recent job. What used to be a reasonable child support obligation may now be something closer to unreasonable due to that decrease in income.
If you owe child support then you need to have your current child support obligation reviewed by the Office of the Attorney General as well as by a family court judge. The OAG should be contacted to review your order as soon as you find a new job and have paychecks rolling in. A comparison can be done between your old rate of pay and your new rate of pay in order to determine whether a modification of your child support order is necessary.
What can you do to initiate a child support modification in family court?
You may also choose to file a modification lawsuit yourself, rather than to rely on the OAG and their team of attorneys. Like I mentioned earlier, once you find yourself with an income that has been decreased or eliminated completely due to the coronavirus-led layoffs, you should do something about it immediately. Filing a lawsuit yourself to modify the amount of child support that you have to pay is one option that you can select.
The benefit of doing so is that while you wait for a decision on your case, a judge can order the amount of child support that you owe to be reduced retroactively. This means that any amount of child support that you currently owe to your child’s custodial parent can also be reduced. Until a court issues a ruling in your case you will continue to owe the same amount of child support, however.
Your court may be able to schedule you and your ex-spouse for a temporary child support hearing over the internet where a placeholder order can be set up while you and your ex-spouse negotiate over a reduced amount of child support to be owed on a permanent basis. Keep in mind, however, that none of this can be started until you take the first step and file your modification lawsuit.
The basic guidelines to modify a child support order
Irrespective of a coronavirus pandemic, the state of Texas requires that you show that a change in income has occurred before modification of your child support orders are warranted. Relatively small changes in income will not suffice, either. If it has been at least three years since your child support order was created and/or the current amount of child support you should be paying (based on current income) differs by $100 or 20% from your prior order then you are in line for a modification.
Life circumstances can also justify a change in the child support orders that you have set up for your family. If you have changed careers, had an additional child born to your family, become incarcerated or seen a drop in income over a long period of time you may be able to have your child support orders modified. I can see at least two of these circumstances applying to your life right now given the financial upheaval that we have been experiencing in our area and country as a whole.
Do not go into this process assuming that your child support order will be put on a forbearance like a home loan may be. Even if you have become unemployed through no fault of your own and your income has dropped to zero this type of scenario is exceedingly rare. The minimum wage modification, even on a temporary basis, is much more likely.
How are unemployment benefits treated when it comes to a child support calculation?
If you are in a position where you have applied for unemployed and have been awarded money from the government, those checks are probably critical to your day to day survival right now. Whether or not they count as income and can be added into an equation for determining an amount of child support that you can pay is something else that may be at the front of your mind in times like these.
Yes, unemployment benefits do count as income for the purposes of child support calculations. That is true now in the age of corona virus and economic downtown, just as much as it is true when the economy is red-hot. Your net monthly resources are what matters when calculating child support.
Additionally, if you were sent a check by the IRS under the recent spending packages passed by Congress then you should be aware that these payments are not factored into your net monthly resources for child support purposes. The reason for this is that the payments that you receive from the government in the form of “emergency” aid are forward payments on future tax credits that you would otherwise be able to take advantage of. Thus, they would not count as income as far as the Texas Office of the Attorney General is concerned.
Should you tell your child’s other parent if you lose your job?
This is an awkward/embarrassing question to have to address. However, it is relevant to the discussion that we have been having so let’s tackle it head on. You should first look to your current child support order to see if you are obligated to do so. Many court orders mandate that you do contact your child’s other parent in a situation like this. The same goes for any changes in your home address and/or changes in your employment.
Otherwise, it would still make sense to contact him or her when you are aware of an upcoming change in employment status. Preparing him or her for a missed or reduced child support payment can be a nice gesture if nothing else.
Questions about child support? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you are encountering difficulties related to paying child support in these uncertain economic times please contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our attorneys are equipped to handle whatever circumstances you find yourself in. We have a team of attorneys who can meet with you over the phone or via video meeting six days a week to discuss your case and your legal options. We take a great deal of pride in serving our community and would be honored to speak to you today.
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The Law Office of Bryan Fagan, PLLC routinely handles matters that affect children and families. If you have questions regarding divorce, it's important to speak with one of our Houston, TX Divorce Lawyers right away to protect your rights.
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