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Modifying Child Support in California

In California, child support payments are determined by a guideline formula considering factors like parents' income, number of children, and time spent with the child. However, if a parent’s income changes because of layoffs or job loss, they may no longer be able to afford the current child support payments.

Losing a job is a stressful event, and if you're a parent who pays child support, you may be feeling an added layer of stress and uncertainty. However, California law provides avenues for modifying child support in cases of significant changes in circumstances, such as job loss. Below, we will discuss the process of requesting a modification and the importance of handling modification requests via the legal system.

Requesting Modification of Child Support

Parents can file for modification if they have experienced a significant change in circumstances, such as job layoffs, job loss, loss of income, changes in disability status, or deployment. To request a modification, you should retain an attorney, as they can help you file a motion.

In your motion, you will need to explain how your job loss impacts your ability to meet the current obligations. You will also need to:

  • Provide evidence. Accumulate documents that demonstrate your change in employment status, like termination letters or unemployment benefit statements.
  • Serve the other parent. The other parent must receive a copy of your motion, including an Income and Expense Declaration so they can respond. However, if you and the other parent agree to the change in support, you can sign and file an agreement.
  • Attend a hearing. If you and the other party do not agree to the change in the support amount, you will have to appear in court, where a judge will make a final determination. In most cases, parents will be granted a modification if the child support order changes by at least $50 or 20%—whichever is less. However, if a parent was trying to be vindictive and purposefully quit or lost their job to lower their child support payments, the court may impute (or attribute) income to that parent.

Factors Considered by the Court

The court considers several factors when deciding on child support modification:

  • Efforts to secure employment. While payors can petition the court to modify their child support payments after a job loss, they must prove that their current income has, in fact, decreased and that they have made a good faith effort to get another job.
  • Income potential. The court may consider your earning potential based on factors like education and work experience.
  • Duration of unemployment. The length of your unemployment can influence the court's decision.

Child Support & Imputed Income

Imputed income refers to the estimated earning potential of an individual, even if they are currently unemployed or underemployed. This concept is often applied in family law cases to ensure that parents cannot evade their child support obligations by simply choosing not to work or by purposely earning less than they are capable of.

If a parent is found to be voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, the court has the discretion to "impute" a higher income based on prior earnings, job skills, education, and prevailing job opportunities. This ensures that a parent cannot shirk their responsibility to financially support their child by manipulating their employment status.

The Importance of Handling Modifications with the Court

If a payor loses their job, they may be tempted to simply inform the other parent and work out a temporary arrangement themselves. While you can work to reach an agreement yourself to eliminate the need for a hearing, you should still do a written modification of your previous agreement, file it with the Court and have it become an Order.

A legal petition ensures that the rights of all parties involved are protected. It provides a structured process where evidence can be presented and decisions are made based on facts and legal principles. This process reduces the risk of unfair treatment and ensures that the child's best interests are at the forefront.

It is also important to note that a court order for child support is enforceable by law. If a parent fails to comply, the court has various enforcement tools at its disposal, such as wage garnishment, seizure of assets, or even jail time for flagrant non-compliance. This enforceability provides a level of security for the custodial parent and the child.

Thus, if you do not properly file for modification, the other parent can file to have you found in contempt for not making complete payments (even if you have a verbal agreement to change payment). It is in your best interest to handle modifications through the legal system.

Interested in modifying your child support order? Contact The Law Offices of Andrea Schneider for legal counsel by reaching out online or calling (619) 304-8499 today.