Can I Reduce My Child Support Payments Because I Am Now Unemployed?

Close-up of layoff notice or pink slip in opened envelope.


2022 Ends with Mass Layoffs and Continues with More in January 2023

Goldman Sachs was to begin layoffs this month affecting 3,000 workers. Amazon, Google, Meta and Microsoft are also undergoing mass layoffs. “Meta laid off more than 11,000 workers, or about 13% of its work force. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, said last week that it planned to cut 12,000 jobs or about 6% of its global workforce.

Even those still working from home or working flex schedules found themselves being laid off while sitting at home. This month dozens of companies announced mass layoffs. More than 1,000 tech companies laid off nearly 160,000 workers last year, according to, another 185 companies cut 57,000 tech workers since the start of this year.

In addition to the emotional impact of being laid off, there is the harsh reality of having to pay the monthly bills-rent, mortgage, utilities, phone, child care, food, clothing and all the ancillary items related to maintaining a household and supporting children. In families where the parents live separate and apart, there are child support payments that were based upon an income you are no longer receiving.

How is the amount of child support determined?

Each state in the United States is required by Federal law to develop criteria for determining and calculating child support. The amount you are ordered to pay as a non-custodial parent is determined by the formula each state uses to determine the amount of child support. There are three models states use to determine child support:

The Income Shares Model is used by most states. The court considers the combined parental income and the number of minor children to be supported. New York, California, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, by example using this model.

The Percentage of Income Model, a set percentage of the non-custodial parent’s income and the number of children being supported. Alaska, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin use this model to calculate child support.

The Melson Formula based on a set of factors including the income of both parents, the needs of the child, the standard of living adjustment for the child. Delaware, Hawaii, and Montana use the Melson Formula to calculate child support.

In all three models, the income of the payee parent is a relative factor. What if that income no longer exists?

If you are the payor of a child support order and lose your job are you still obligated to pay?

An obligation to pay child support is a legal obligation. An order to pay child support is a court order. Nonpayment of a court order can lead to your being held in contempt of court and threatened with incarceration or a judgment lien against you and/or your property. Payments of child support only stop or are reduced if there is an order of the court reducing your obligation or the recipient parent waives his/her right to receive the support and the waiver is filed with the court. You remain obligated to continue paying child support until your child support order is modified by the court or the child ages out and no longer is entitled to receive child support.

In the case of United States of America v. Sage, US Court of Appeals (2nd Cir., 1996), the court upheld the constitutionality of a law allowing federal fines and up to two years imprisonment for a person willingly failing to pay child support, provided the amount has been unpaid for longer than a year or exceeds $5000, when said child resides in a different state from that of the non-custodial parent.

The US law known as the Bradley Amendment was passed in 1986 to prohibit the retroactive State modification of child support arrears. Under current law, “no matter what the circumstances, a State cannot modify delinquent child support obligations.”

What should you do if you lose your job and owe support?

If your child support is being collected by a state agency, notify the agency that you lost your job.

Gather your network information so that you can begin reaching out to everyone you know regarding job prospects.

You should immediately start keeping a job search diary by day including all job search related calls, emails sent out, all head hunters you communicate with, all applications sent out, all ads responded to, all interviews you go one on in person or via Zoom . Keep the diary by the hour by the day of the week. Show you are working full time to find a job.

Your new job is to find a job with a salary commensurate to the salary you just lost. A court may continue to hold you responsible for the amount of support based on your prior income.

You should immediately notify the payee that you lost your job and will be unable to meet your monthly child support obligations. The custodial parent should see that you are working hard to maintain as best you can your child support obligation and are working hard to find a job.

You should immediately file a petition in court seeking a downward modification of your child support amount because you lost your job. Modifications are retroactive to the date filed with the court not to the date you lost your job. If the court grants a downward modification of child support, your reduced obligation will be retroactive to the date you filed your petition. Child support will accrue based on the amount of the original order retroactive to the date of first nonpayment unless your modification petition is granted.

Pay something towards your support obligation.

Should you hire an attorney?

Paying for an attorney to represent you in a court action to reduce your child support obligation instead of paying child support is never a good plan. The money you used to retain the attorney is better used to pay the child support.


Losing your job through no fault of your own is a basis to seek a downward modification of your child support obligation. If you lost your job for “cause”, you do not have a basis to seek a child support modification notwithstanding your loss of employment.

What is the likely court outcome for a downward modification of child support?

In New York: “A downward modification of a support order will be granted where a party presents credible evidence that he lost his job through no fault of his own and made a good faith effort to obtain new employment commensurate with his qualifications, education, ability, and experience.”

In Georgia: “In Georgia, child support orders may be modified upon a showing of a substantial change in either parent’s income or financial status, or in the needs of the children.” OCGA §19-6-15(k)(1).

In Ohio: “If you have lost your job, you still have to continue making child support payments. Payments will have to continue to be made unless the court has stated otherwise. That being said, there are circumstances in which you can modify your child support payments. You may be able to change the amount and/or frequency of your payments.”

In Texas: “IMPORTANT: The amount of child support you are ordered to pay can only be changed by obtaining a new court order. Informal agreements between custodial and noncustodial parents do not change the child support court ordered amount.”

Who can forgive child support arrests?

Only the obligee, the parent to whom you owe the support can forgive child support arrears.

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