One consequence of COVID-19 is that many people have lost their jobs. According to the Texas Workforce Commission, over 1 million Texans have filed for unemployment. If you’ve lost your job or are on reduced hours, where does that leave your child support obligation? The short answer is you still owe the full amount ordered each month.
You don’t have the same income so why do you have to pay the same child support? Because a court order is a court order. Thankfully, the Texas Legislators anticipated that a parent’s income would fluctuate before a child turned 18 and codified the grounds for modification. One ground to modify child support under Texas Family Code § 156.401 is when the circumstances of the child or a person affected by the order have materially and substantially changed. Losing your job or receiving significantly less income is generally a material and substantial change.
What Steps Do You Need to Take?
The first step is you need to notify the obligee (the person receiving the child support). Most final orders have a notification requirement that the obligor (the person paying child support) must notify the court and the obligee via U.S. certified mail, return receipt requested, of any termination of employment. This notice must be given no later than seven days after the termination of employment. If you’ve started a new job already, the notice should also provide the name and address of your current employer. The purpose of providing address information is because most people have a wage withholding order in place. You must notify the obligee so he or she knows where to send a new wage withholding order for child support.
The second step is you need to file a new suit to modify child support. Unless you file a suit to modify, the court will have not be able change your child support amount. If your child support is modified, the court can make the decrease retroactive to the earlier of the time you served the obligee with citation or the obligee made an appearance in the modification.
Third, pay what you can. Arrearages accrue for any amount less than the full amount owed. If you owe $500 a month, are fully up to date on prior child support, and only pay $250, you will accrue an arrearage of $250. If you pay only $250 the next month, your arrearage will then equal $500. Having an arrearage of $500 is definitely better than having an arrearage of $1000 though. This is especially true because interest accrues on the past due child support at a rate of 6% per year. Another reason to pay what you can is because a judge will see that you are trying to follow the order. Child support is for the benefit of the child and any amount you can pay to support your child is better than nothing.
If you’ve lost your job and can’t make your child support payment, you are not alone. Take the proper steps to address your child support obligation and don’t just ignore it. Getting ahead of the child support issue now will help you in the long run.