The last five years have been chaotic in many ways, and the employment landscape has shifted and changed dramatically. Many people have found themselves without work due to lockdowns, business closures, and changes to employment structures. While sometimes this is a short-term situation, many people have been left without income for more extended periods of time.
If you are an individual under a court order to pay child support – whether due to a divorce or as an unmarried parent – and your pay has been reduced due to reduced wages or unemployment, making ends meet can be challenging. This economic hardship makes meeting your child support responsibilities and obligations more difficult.
If you are dedicated to supporting your kids but experiencing a significant income reduction, speak with a family law attorney about petitioning the court to modify your support.
Modifying Child Support
Florida law offers a legal remedy to people who, in good faith, can no longer afford their child support payments.
If a substantial change in circumstances can be proven, the court has the discretion to modify the order of support. In the case of employment loss, the court must decide whether the spouse seeking to lower their monthly obligation can prove this unexpected change in circumstance. Any change allowing an adjustment must be “significant, material, involuntary, and permanent” – as stated by the court in several Florida cases.
Voluntary or Involuntary?
The judge will seek to determine whether the job loss was voluntary, which is not considered a substantial change. In other words, if an individual quit their job to reduce their payments, the reduction will likely not be approved. However, each case has specific facts that will be considered – people leave jobs for many reasons, which may be regarded as valid by the courts. Conversely, if someone was fired from a job for misconduct or drug use, the courts may see this as a voluntary action because it was the individual’s fault.
Attribution of Income
If the income reduction is voluntary, the court “shall” impute income to the underemployed or unemployed parent. (This does not apply if the individual is incapacitated or the circumstances they are experiencing are beyond their control.) Income attribution is calculated based on an individual’s potential earning capacity rather than what they are actually earning. However, this decision is not made without careful deliberation.
There must be sufficient evidence to establish that the individual in question is:
- qualified for an available position that would pay at least the amount of income being attributed
- they have not made reasonable efforts to secure such a position
- The court must be convinced that it is within the petitioner’s control to earn the attributed amount.
Florida statutes outline the detailed requirements for the types of evidence the court must use to calculate the total amount of imputed income – such as individual qualifications, median earning levels in the community, and recent employment and salary history data. Attributed (presumed) income is then used to determine the proper child support amount as if the attributed income were actually earned.
Another consideration is whether the unemployment is due to the individual putting their interests before their children or because they did not sincerely make an effort to become or remain employed.
A Family Law Attorney Can Help with Child Support
The legal and factual details of a family law case can be complex, especially regarding amendments to an order of child support. This situation can be further complicated by the intense emotions that often surround these issues. If you have child support obligations and have suffered job or career loss, call the law offices of Richard V. Ellis. We can help you to understand your options and, if appropriate, to file a petition for modification.