The law is very clear that both parents of a minor child have a legal obligation to contribute to the care and maintenance of that child until the child reaches the age of majority, or longer in some cases. When the parents of a minor child divorce, or otherwise live apart, that financial obligation is enforced through an order to pay child support. If you are under an order to pay child support, and you recently lost your job, you may suddenly be unable to pay that support. Your loss of a job, however, does not affect your legal obligation to pay child support.
Child Support Is a Court Order
Child support can be ordered while a divorce is pending or as part of a final decree of dissolution (divorce). It can also be ordered when paternity of a child is legally established if the parents were not married at the time the child was born. Regardless of how and when child support was ordered, that obligation is an order of the court. Failing to abide by the court’s order can have some fairly serious consequences. If the court finds you have violated the court order, the court may:
- Order that future child support and arrearages be paid through a wage assignment order
- Reduce the arrearage (amount owed) to judgment
- Add an additional amount for the arrearage to be paid monthly
- Order you to reimburse the parent owed support for filing fees, court costs, and attorney’s fees for having to pursue the child support in court
- Award12% simple interest on unpaid child support
- Order you to pick up trash
- Revoke certain licenses issued by the State of Tennessee including hunting and driving licenses;
- Intercept your tax refund
- Revoke your passport
- Report the delinquency to credit bureaus
- Find you in civil or criminal contempt
- Order you to jail for a period of time or until a certain amount is paid (purge payment)
- Order you to serve jail time for willful failure to pay child support.
Losing Your Job Does Not Automatically Affect Your Child Support Obligation
When your child support obligation was initially calculated, both your income and that of the other parent was taken into consideration when deciding how much child support you must pay. If you most your job, you may be unable to pay that much in child support as a result of that loss in income. Legally, however, your child support obligation continues unless and until you return to court and the court modifies the order. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the court will agree to modify the current order. This is particularly true if the job loss was in any way your fault. For example, if you quit your job without a very good reason, the court will not be sympathetic to your predicament. Likewise, if you lost your job because of poor job performance, failing a random drug screen, or theft, don’t look to the court for sympathy. On the other hand, if your job loss was the result of a layoff, company closing, or because you were subjected to a hostile work environment, the court may indeed be sympathetic to your plight.
Don’t Bury Your Head in the Sand
Although the court may be willing to temporarily abate your child support obligation, or permanently modify it, you must be proactive and petition the court. Until the court enters a new order regarding your child support obligation, the current order stands. That means that if you are unable to pay, the arrearage is building up. Even if the court does modify the order eventually, that arrearage doesn’t go away. Burying your head in the sand and ignoring the problem will only hurt you in the long run. Unless you have an immediate prospect for a new job with commensurate pay, it is in your best interest to consult with a child support attorney right away about petitioning the court for a modification. In the meantime, pay what you can toward your support obligation. Most judges are more likely to be sympathetic if they see you are at least trying to fulfill your financial obligation despite the loss of your job.
Contact a Tennessee Child Support Attorney
If you recently lost your job and are behind in your child support payments in the State of Tennessee, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Tennessee child support attorney at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby as soon as possible. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.