Approximately half of all marriages in the United States fail, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2010. As a result of this unfortunate fact, many parents have to pay child support. Because income is tied to child support payments, some parents question what happens to child support payments if they are fired.
How Courts Calculate Child Support
To understand what happens with child support when you get fired, you first must understand exactly how courts come up with the amount of child support you have to pay. Although the formulas for calculating child support vary by state because of variances in minimum wage and poverty levels, every state looks at the income of both parents when making a support determination. For this reason, if both parents make reasonable incomes, the court may decide that the custodial parent does not need assistance, or that lower payments are more appropriate. If the custodial parent's income is low and the income of the non-custodial parent is high, the courts may feel it is in the best interest of the child to have the non-custodial parent provide more assistance. This means that your lack of employment is not the only factor the court will use in re-evaluating your payments.
Right of the Child
The court system recognizes the right of the child to well-being. The courts do not actively want to cause hardship on either parent by issuing a support order, but in order to protect your child, they will not excuse you from support payments in totality simply because you become unemployed. The court's job is to find a balance between the child's safety and your ability to be self-sufficient.
Court Petition for Support Changes
In the event you are fired, you can file a petition with the court to have your support amount modified. You will need to have documented evidence of your termination and inability to make the standard payment amount. The ability to petition the court for modifications goes both ways, however--the custodial parent can file a similar petition once you are employed again, and courts may require you to notify them of income changes as a stipulation of the support adjustment. In other words, being fired may permit you a temporary reduction or cessation of support, but it does not absolve you of complete support responsibility in the long term.
Often, in divorce or separation cases, non-custodial parents try to make their incomes seem lower than usual. They may do this by not reporting bonuses or not working as much overtime as before. If you are fired, do not attempt to do this if you get another job. The courts will use your previous work and payment history as a factor in their support payment decision. They will expect you to make a conscious effort to find employment with a pay rate similar to the one you enjoyed previous to your termination. The basic reason for this is because a similar income means a similar support payment--that is, it provides some predictability for all involved and stability in the child's welfare. This doesn't mean you absolutely have to find a job with the same pay. It just means that you shouldn't actively seek lower wages, and that the court will expect you to explain why you cannot find a pay rate similar to the one you had. Otherwise, the court may impute income, meaning they'll assume you can pay a higher support payment.