COVID-related job losses and income reductions are scary for single parents. When the household depends on just one income, the parent experiencing income loss finds themselves needing drastically more child support.
Child support is designed to ensure that the needs of the child are met in each home. Child support orders can be changed when one parent experiences a job or income loss, but the change doesn’t happen immediately. Parents need to understand that they must file a request to change their support order as soon as they discover a shift in their financial circumstances.
COVID has changed the financial circumstances for many parents who need answers about job loss, unemployment, stimulus checks, and child support. Here are responses to common questions asked by California parents.
How does a job loss impact child support payments?
Child support does not change automatically upon an income loss or reduction. A parent must request a child support hearing. Until the parents are heard in court, often many weeks to months later, the current child support order remains in place. This means that payment of support is due even if there has been a partial or total income loss. This can create severe financial hardship. It is recommended that parents attempt to reach an agreement before the hearing date and implement a tracking tool like SupportPay to keep accurate, up-date-records of this agreement for the hearing.
What if you cannot make your full payment?
Do your best not to skip payments, but, if you do, keep careful track of what you are paying. For example, if you were $200 short for your july payment and also $200 short for your august payment, does this mean that your payment for July was satisfied with the first $200 of the August payment and you are now $400 short for august? These are questions that need answers! Penalties attach at 10% per month in California. It is crucial to make up for lost payments before moving on to new ones and to keep careful track of the late penalties you are accruing. SupportPay is the perfect tool for this. Also, to help defend yourself against a contempt charge (and possible jail time) for willful nonpayment of child support, you need a tool that helps you track payments you make. This helps establish your good-faith attempts at compliance with the order.
How do severance pay and unemployment pay impact child support payments?
In California courts, child support is determined using a broadly-construed definition of income. If this question is, is it income? Then the answer is almost always yes. Severance pay is income that will be calculated into a one-time support payment. Unemployment benefits, on the other hand, change the calculation for ongoing support, by replacing the prior income with the total unemployment (including any pandemic-relief addition unemployment assistance).
Does the government stimulus check count as income?
This is not yet clearly defined by the courts. On the one hand, the payment is a tax rebate, not income. However, lower taxes mean higher income. And, the California court does have the ability to utilize benefits that lower-income as actual income when determining child support. Be safe, and set aside a portion of the stimulus if you are ordered to pay a part of it as support.
What happens to your wage assignment when you lose your job?
You also lose the wage assignment, but remember, your obligation to pay support continues. This means you should determine when the last payment was made by the employer, and begin to pay support directly to the other parent as soon as the next installment is due.
What are you obligated to do after a job loss?
First, communicate the loss to the other spouse, and see if you can reach an agreement for a temporary support reduction while you are between jobs. Second, keep records of your job search attempts, and provide them to the other parent. Finally, when you start a new position, immediately inform the other parent of the details, so that you can create a new child support agreement.
Did a job loss cause you to lose your insurance?
If your job loss results in the child losing health insurance, this should be communicated immediately to the other parent, so add the child to their employer’s policy. If that is not available, you should get benefits through www.CoveredCalifornia.com.
Change your Child Support Order as quickly and efficiently as possible
Together with the other parent, you can input updated numbers into the SupportPay California Child Support Calculator. If you can reach an agreement, you can easily prepare and file the necessary documents. If you cannot reach an agreement, you’ll need to submit a request for modification with the court. Hire an attorney who uses the SupportPay CaseManagment System. This allows the attorney to see the data you’ve already aggregated, review the forms you generated, and then e-file your request for a hearing with the proposed support calculation. With most of the attorney’s work done for them, you can expect to pay much less than you would otherwise, saving funds for your more critical aspect of the case: the hearing.
If you do need an attorney, find and hire one as soon as possible. Your paperwork must be filed as quickly as possible because the judge can make an order retroactively reducing your support to the date you filed – but no sooner. Suppose your attorney utilizes the SupportPay Case Management System. In that case, you can fast-track the process ( eliminating time spent in meetings, drafting documents, and making revisions) and get into court faster.
Prepare before your hearing. The other parent should file a response to your request to modify support. You can input all of the data provided in your Case Management system and a proposed calculator. If you cannot agree, you have an accurate, proposed calculator to send to the court for your hearing date.
COVID has destabilized the financial situations of many parents. Many child support arrangements need to be modified so that they reflect the parents’ current circumstances. Learn more about how to use the Case Management System and the SupportPay Calculator on our website www.supportpay.com