What Do You Do...If You Lost Your Job and Owe Child Support?
If you are court ordered to pay child support and lost your job due to COVID-19, business closure, layoff, natural disaster or other event not caused by you, your court ordered child support obligation does not automatically change or terminate. The obligation to pay continues at the rate ordered until you file a for a modification or termination and the judge enters a new order.
Accordingly, if you have been involuntarily terminated, laid off, or furloughed for an indefinite period of time and have no other form of income, you should file a Supplemental Petition for Modification or Termination of Child Support. In order to succeed in modifying your child support obligation, you must prove there has been a substantial, material, unanticipated change in circumstance since the entry of the last order. If you were working and earning an income at the time the last order was entered and you lost your job due to circumstances beyond your control, for example: COVID-19, that would qualify. If you are still able to work but your income has been significantly reduced, that would also qualify. Generally, the threshold is a 15% or $50.00 change (whichever is greater) in the child support obligation is considered substantial and material.
Bear in mind, it is very unlikely the Court will terminate a parent’s obligation to pay child support all together absent the child’s emancipation or a termination of parental rights. However, the Court may grant a request for temporary abatement of child support or stay of enforcement against the unemployed parent for a finite period of time. This may prevent accruing arrears balances, penalties, and/or enforcement actions by the Florida Department of Revenue, Child Support Enforcement, which can result in the suspension of drivers’ licenses, purge payment, and jail.
So, when should you file your Supplemental Petition? If you have lost your job and a new job is not readily available, you should file a Supplemental Petition immediately. This will not only protect you against enforcement actions, but it will act to benchmark a date from which you can seek retroactive application of the modification. This means, if your petition is granted, the Judge can modify the child support payment back to the date you filed the Supplemental Petition.
With the COVID-19 crisis upon us, access to the Courts is more challenging. However, legal forms are available online and the Clerk of Court in your jurisdiction can be accessed by both phone and online. If you file and you become re-employed without a loss in earnings, you can always dismiss your petition. But, if you don’t file, you will be obligated to pay child support at your current rate.