Child Support Emergency: You’ve Lost Your Job And Can’t Pay, Now What?

Paying child support is a serious matter, but sometimes life can throw you a curve ball that suddenly throws your financial world upside down, making it impossible to pay. Although you need to get your life back together in a hurry, you shouldn't allow yourself to panic or crawl down a rabbit hole to avoid the impending repercussions of your unemployment. Take a few deep breaths, keep calm, and deal with the situation at hand:

1. Talk To Your Ex Right Away

Because you don't want your ex to contact the courts before you do, give them a call and let them know what's going on. Tell them you're going to be as responsible about the situation as you can and resolve it as quickly as possible. If you're on good terms with your ex, ask them to work with you through the court process of modifying your child support; if not, be brief and polite. Either way, if you reach any kind of agreement together, try to get it in writing.

2. Call Your Lawyer

Your lawyer needs to be apprised of your new financial situation immediately. Child support will accumulate if you don't pay, and it's not something you can discharge if you are forced to file for bankruptcy. Failure to pay child support can result in a civil warrant for your arrest being issued by a judge, along with other possible repercussions, includng:

  • Your salary or wages (if you're making any) can be docked by the court.
  • You could lose your driver's license.
  • A lien could be issued against any property you own.

Handling the matter of not being able to meet your child support obligations should be done with transparency and legal expertise, since the consequences for you are so high. Be open and honest, and try not to let the pressure force you into avoidance of the issue. As stressed out as you are now, things will quickly deteriorate further if you're not up front and don't address the problem expeditiously.

3. Get Proof On Paper That You Can't Pay

Gather all the paperwork from your employer that shows you no longer have a job, even if you were fired. If you were laid off, that paperwork will help you apply for unemployment. You must not have left your job willingly, or you will likely face additional court action, where they calculate what you would have earned (imputed earnings), and set child support payments according to those figures.

Whatever the circumstances, you will need this documentation when you and/or your spouse officially file for child support modification in court. Bring the paperwork to your lawyer so they can prepare your case with as few surprises in the process as possible.

4. Reassure Your Family (And Yourself) That This Is Temporary

Even if you aren't on good terms with your ex, it's important that you reassure them you're going to do what's necessary to support your child. From their perspective, this is a very precarious and even scary situation. Update them when needed, let them know you're trying, and if possible, try to do something extra for them right now, such as make repairs around their house or apartment or watch the kids if they need to go out.

Also, it's important that you reassure yourself during these turbulent times. Job loss, for whatever reason, is a difficult situation to navigate. Don't let your motivation waver or allow yourself to wallow in the blues, as you have far more important things to do right now.

5. Find A Job (Any Job) As Fast As You Can

Since you have serious financial obligations to meet, it's essential that you find a job fast. Document all attempts so you can demonstrate to the court that you're trying, but let nothing stop you from becoming gainfully employed quickly:

  • Have a basic resume ready, but prepare customized versions for the different positions you go for.
  • Use job boards online to expand your search.
  • Network with everyone you know, asking friends, family and neighbors to help you find a job.
  • Don't waste time applying where you know you're not likely to be hired (but don't sell yourself short, either).
  • Make a dazzling first impression by looking as professional and appropriate as possible for whatever position you're applying for.
  • Lower your standards and expectations if needed, as a lower income may be better than no income right now.

Keep pounding the pavement, calling employment agencies, and seeking out opportunities until you find something. While it may be hard to continue the grind of searching for a job, it's far more difficult to face your ex and the judge and tell them you still don't have one.

6. Cut Expenses Elsewhere

Saving money wherever you can is crucial to your survival right now, and it will show everyone how dedicated you are to your most important financial obligations. Avoid doing things like dining out or purchasing unnecessary and expensive items—even sell the ones you already have, if needed. You will work your way out of this predicament eventually, and it's then that you can get your mojo back, along with the material things that make you happy.

7. Keep Your Case Updated

Stay in touch with your lawyer and ex, letting them know about all the jobs you apply for and any other relevant changes to your life. For example, if you decide to move into a cheaper apartment, down-grade your vehicle, or mow lawns for cash, they should know about it. Be on time and prepared for all your court appointments and keep reminding yourself that soon you'll be back on your feet and in control of your finances.

Contact a law firm like Kelm & Reuter, P.A. for additional advice.