It is common for a spouse ordered to pay child support in a Texas divorce proceeding to have a change in income after the divorce.
Sometimes that happens for reasons beyond their control, such as layoffs or a need to change their lifestyle following the divorce.
But sometimes a parent will attempt to manipulate their child support obligations by intentionally reducing their income by changing jobs or reducing the hours he or she works.
So what impact does that have on the parent’s child support obligation?
This is an unfortunate situation as the impact of a reduction in income or loss of a job has a negative impact on the child.
When a job is lost or income reduced due to normal economic conditions or reasonable changes in circumstances, it is unfortunate.
When a job is lost or income reduced in an attempt by one parent to reduce the child support that the other parent receives, it is purely malicious and harms the child’s well being.
Understand How Child Support Is Paid In Texas
Before going further, it is important to understand how child support is usually paid in Texas.
At the time the court enters a final decree of divorce, the court signs an income withholding order for the child support payments.
The court clerk then sends the income withholding order to the obligor parent’s employer as well as any subsequent employer.
The employer then deducts the amount set out in the income withholding order from the spouse’s paycheck and sends that amount to the Attorney General’s Child Support processing unit.
The AG’s office then sends payment to the parent receiving payment of child support. But that payment is dependent on the obligor parent’s receiving income.
If the parent ordered to pay child support has no income – then no funds are withheld and sent to the AG’s office. This means the parent entitled to receive child support does not receive any money.
Impact Of A Reduction In Income
First, let’s look at the impact of a reduction in income for the parent ordered to pay spousal support.
Initially, nothing changes as the amount of child support that parent is required to pay can only change if it is modified by court ordered.
So long as the parent’s paycheck includes enough income to withhold the child support in full, then that spouse’s employer will withhold the required amount and send it to the AG’s office.
But in this case the parent can seek a modification of the child support order with the court.
In order to get a court order modifying the child support amount, the parent must show a substantial and material change in circumstances or that the amount he or she should pay under the child support guidelines as applied to current income is at least $100 less than the prior order.
When the parent paying support files for a modification, the parent receiving support will receive notice of the motion and have an opportunity to challenge that modification.
If the parent contesting the modification can show that the reduction in income is due to intentional underemployment or an intentional reduction in hours, then the modification will likely be denied.
This has the effect of leaving the economic burden of the lower income on the spouse seeking to game the system.
Impact Of Intentional Unemployment
But what happens if the parent ordered to pay child support simply refuses to work?
In that case – the parent receiving child support will not receive any payments because there is nothing withheld from the other parent’s paycheck.
That leaves the entire burden on the child.
The parent ordered to pay child support might seek a modification to reduce the amount owed – but the parent receiving support has an opportunity to challenge that modification as discussed above.
If the parent is intentionally unemployed, then the court will likely not grant a reduction in the child support payments.
But the child support obligation does not go away.
Instead, the unpaid amounts accrue as unpaid child support. The Attorney General’s Child Support Division maintains a record of payments and missed payments.
Once that parent is re-employed, employer withholding will continue and the spouse entitled to receive child support can seek to increase the amount withheld to recoup the missed child support payments.
There are also other collection options available both as a private cause of action and through the Office of the Attorney General that are beyond the scope of this article.
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