I Lost My Job and Can’t Afford Child Support – What Are My Options?

If you cannot afford to pay child support because you have lost your job, your options will depend on several factors, including why you lost your job and whether there is already a court order requiring you to pay support. A child support lawyer can be a tremendous ally during this time. While it is true that lawyers cost money, they can also save you money in the long run and help you avoid defaulting on a court judgment.

The Reason You Lost Your Job Makes a Difference

If you voluntarily quit your job or reduced your hours, the court will treat you as if you are still earning the full amount you were previously. Many people try to play games with their income when going through a divorce, to pay less child support. The courts have handled many thousands of divorce cases before yours, so they know what to expect.

If you quit a lucrative job, reduce your hours, or switch to a lower-paying career voluntarily, the court may “impute” income to you. Imputing income means the court will use the amount of money it determines you should be earning, not how much you actually are earning, when calculating the amount of child support.

On the other hand, if you lost your job due to no fault of your own, the court will not impute income to you. If you are unemployed or underemployed because of a layoff, illness or disability, the court will use the amount of money you actually are earning when determining the amount of support. Be aware that the court will include your unemployment check and disability check in your income.

It Matters Whether You Have an Existing Child Support Order

If you already have a court order requiring you to pay child support, you will have to keep paying child support even if you lose your job or become ill or disabled, as long as that order is in effect. The fact that it is financially impossible for you to pay the support does not change your obligation.

Your only option in this scenario is to go back to court and get the support order changed. Pennsylvania courts will only modify a support order if you have a significant change of circumstances that will last for a substantial period of time. For example, if you are unable to work for three months while you recuperate from injuries you suffered in a car accident, you will not get a modification, and you will be responsible for the full amount of support during those three months.

On the other hand, if you become permanently disabled, you will meet the requirements for a modification of the support order. The modification will not be retroactive to the date of your disability, so you should file your request as soon as possible. If the court grants your modification, it will be effective as of the date you filed your request, at the earliest.

What Can Happen to You If You Do Not Pay Your Child Support in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania Child Support Program (CSP) treats non-payment of child support as a serious issue. If the non-custodial parent does not pay child support, he or she can face:

  • A court order of civil contempt
  • Jail time up to six months
  • A fine of up to $500, on top of the owed child support
  • Probation up to six months

The CSP can also seize your bank accounts, and any personal injury or Worker’s Compensation awards you receive. They can intercept your state and federal income tax returns and lottery winnings. They can suspend your driver’s license, your professional license (medical, law, or other professional licenses), and your recreational licenses, such as hunting and fishing.

The CSP can put a lien against your real estate, have your passport denied, and report you to the credit bureaus. They can also publish your name in the newspaper as a parent who is delinquent in the payment of child support.

With all the consequences you could face for non-payment of child support, it is important that you talk with a Pennsylvania child support lawyer to protect your rights. Give us a call today to set up a free legal consultation with a Pennsylvania divorce attorney today.