What to Know About Unemployment and Child Support

Losing your job can be frightening, especially if you have kids. Unemployment can have an effect on your ability to continue to pay child support. Non-custodial parents should note that a child support order remains in effect even if a parent is unemployed. Child support payments are necessary to help ensure that the child's needs are met.

It's important to understand how child support payments can alter unemployment benefits. A non-custodial parent who has an active child support order and loses their job will likely have the following questions about unemployment and child support.

What to Do If You Lose Your Job

You are still obligated to pay child support when unemployed. If you skip payments, you will still have to pay them eventually, sometimes with interest. Or you may be found in contempt of your child support order, which could mean fines or even jail time.

A recently unemployed parent should immediately check with the state to find out whether they are eligible for unemployment benefits. If so, notify the unemployment office of the outstanding child support order. The unemployment office will deduct the child support payments from the parent's unemployment wages.

If You Are Ineligible for Benefits

The parent should continue to work with the family court and the child's other parent during their unemployment. The unemployed parent should document their ongoing job search.

When the parent secures a new job, they should pay their child support via check until the payments can be taken directly from their wages. In addition, parents should prepare for a slight increase in child support payments to cover the period of unemployment.

If a parent isn't drawing unemployment benefits because they are voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, a court can decide that the parent must still pay child support based on "imputed" income (what they would, or should, be earning, in the court's opinion).

Covering Your Child's Health Benefits

Most child support orders also require a non-custodial parent charged with paying child support to provide health insurance for their child. If a parent loses their job, they will also lose health insurance.

Often, an employee is entitled to continue health insurance benefits through COBRA. However, the cost of COBRA insurance is not subsidized, as is the cost of most insurance benefits offered by an employer, so it can be quite costly.

If a parent is unemployed and unable to continue to provide health insurance for a child, the parent should speak to the custodial parent first. Perhaps the custodial parent can add the child to their health insurance policy if there is a plan available. If not, a custodial parent can seek to add the child to a federally funded insurance plan for children.

Changes to the Child Support Order

If the non-custodial parent falls on truly difficult financial times, the court should be made aware. A child support order will only be altered if a parent seeks a modification.

Parents should seek the assistance of a qualified attorney in their state who can help file for a modification. The sooner you request this modification, the better, so you do not fall behind in your payments.

A Word From Verywell

No one wants to lose their job, but it important to make sure all of your finances are taken care of when you do. Unemployment is very difficult for both custodial and non-custodial parents to handle. However, the need to support a child does not terminate when a parent is unemployed.

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Article Sources
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  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Office of Cild Support Enforcement. Final Rule: Withholding of Unemployment Benefits for Support Purposes: AT-84-02. Published March 27, 1984

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Child Support Enforcement. Changing a child support order. Updated August 2017.

  3. U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Medicaid & CHIP coverage.