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How Much Child Support Do You Pay If You Become Unemployed?If you are one of the millions of Americans who have recently lost their jobs, you are understandably concerned about your ability to pay for living expenses. For some adults, child support is part of their monthly expenses. Fortunately, you do not have to continue paying the same amount towards child support if you have become unemployed. By requesting a modification of your child support payments, you can reduce your payments to something more manageable, though it is unlikely that you could ever get it reduced to nothing.

Changing Child Support

During a divorce or separation, Illinois calculates child support payments based on the parents’ comparative incomes. Your combined incomes help determine how much you both should be spending on child-related expenses each month, and your comparative incomes determine what percentage of those expenses you will each pay for. You can request an immediate modification of child support if you have a change of financial circumstances, such as losing your job. If the court grants your request, your child support payments will be reduced if you are the paying parent, or the payments you receive will increase if you are the recipient parent. There are a few conditions to the modification that you need to understand:

  • If your unemployment is voluntary, the court will calculate your income based on what you could potentially be earning and not your actual income.
  • You may need to make a good faith effort to find a new job in order for the court to consider your unemployment to be involuntary.
  • Child support payments can be reduced retroactively to the date that you filed your modification request but not the date you lost your job.
  • In many cases, child support will be paid to the parent with a majority of the parenting time, even if the recipient has a greater income than the payer. However, there may be situations in which the parent with a higher income and the majority of the parenting time pays child support to the other parent, including in some "shared physical care" situations where each parent has at least 40% of the parenting time.

What Counts As Income?

Though you have lost your job, you are still required to pay whatever child support you can afford. If you are receiving severance pay and/or unemployment benefits, that will count towards your income for the purpose of child support. If those income sources expire, you may still be expected to pay a minimum amount based on whatever savings you have to live on.

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Parenting Time Change Can Allow Child Support ModificationYou are allowed to modify the child support order from your divorce at any time as long as you can show that there has been a significant change of circumstances that makes the modification necessary. The change of circumstances is usually a change in the income of one of the parents or a change in the cost of supporting the children. However, a change in the division of parenting time may also be enough reason to modify your child support payment.

Shared Parenting

Illinois has a modified version of its child support formula that it uses when parents have a 60-40 division of parenting time or less, which qualifies as shared parenting. The paying parent does not need to provide as much support to the other parent because they are directly paying for more of the children’s expenses. Thus, it is appropriate to modify child support payments if the division of parenting time reaches the shared parenting threshold.

No Time Limit to Modify

A recent Illinois case shows that courts can misapply child support laws in ways that need to be corrected. In the case of In re Marriage of Izzo, a man sought to reduce his child support payments to his former wife based on three changes of circumstance:

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Which Circumstances Allow You to Modify Child Support Payments?Due to the overhaul of Illinois’ child support law a few years ago, some divorced or separated parents are working under a drastically different child support system than others:

  • For child support agreements created before July 1, 2017, the non-resident parent pays a percentage of his or her income, based on the number of children; and
  • For child support agreements created since July 1, 2017, the total child support obligation is determined by the parents’ combined incomes, and the non-resident parent pays a percentage of the obligation that is proportionate to his or her share of the combined incomes.

The new child support model would potentially reduce the payments of a parent who was using the previous child support model. However, the existence of the new law is not enough reason to allow a modification of a child support agreement. 

Recent Case

A parent needs to prove a significant change of circumstances to immediately modify a child support agreement, which is usually a change in income or expenses for either parent. In the recent case of In re Marriage of Salvatore, a divorced father thought he had enough of a change of circumstances to allow him to reduce his child support payments. The parents had completed their divorce in 2015, with the father paying $8,100 per month for child support. The mother was unemployed at the time of divorce but had since been employed as an office worker and nurse.

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Court Orders Retired Father to Pay Same Level of Child SupportLosing your job and being forced into retirement normally qualifies as a change of circumstances that will allow you to reduce your child support payments. The recent decision for In re Marriage of Verhines shows that a court will consider more than income to determine a parent’s child support obligation in high-income cases. The Illinois appellate court said that there were unique circumstances in this case as opposed to a normal request for child support relief.

Case Background

A 65-year-old divorced father of a teenage son initially requested a reduction of his child support payments in December 2015 after his forced termination from his previous position as an executive at a packaging company. The father was paying $3,043 per month based on his previous income but effectively entered retirement because he was unable to secure another full-time executive position at his age. A trial court reduced his child support payments to $1,700 per month, claiming that the father’s income was $78,000 per year and that he could not be expected to withdraw from his retirement benefits to maintain the same level of child support payments. He had previously taken $400,000 out of his retirement account to pay for personal expenses.

Decision Reversal

An Illinois appellate court recently overturned the trial court’s ruling and reinstated the original child support amount. The appellate court said that the trial court’s decision ignored key factors and used faulty logic:

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Illinois Court Denies Appeal on Child Support ModificationAfter a court has established child support, parents are entitled to a review and possible modification of the payments. Illinois allows child support modifications in three situations:

  • When three years have passed since the child support was enacted or last modified;
  • When there is a significant change in the needs of a child; or
  • When there is a significant change in the income of one of the parents.

A recent Illinois appellate court case involved a father requesting to lower his child support payments. The court found that the father had proven a viable reduction in his income and rejected the mother’s argument that the support payments should remain the same.

Case Details

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