The loss of a job or main source of income at any time can be difficult. Against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, many who have recently become unemployed face additional stress as they search for jobs in a dwindling market – and for divorced or separated parents paying court-mandated child support, the stress is multiplied.
Despite the spike in unemployment and a small job market, child support remains in effect and still needs to be paid, not only to ensure the child’s well-being, but also to avoid negative consequences, such as additional fines or even jail time.
If you or someone you know now face concerns regarding child support and meeting payments, there are resources that can be utilized, as well as steps that can be taken to ensure the child’s needs are still being met.
Check Your Eligibility For Unemployment Benefits
Start by checking your eligibility for unemployment benefits. Although the additional amount from federal unemployment benefits ended as of July 31, you can still apply for state benefits. The state of Illinois was among one of the forty-four states to receive approval to add an extra $300 in weekly unemployment benefits, but with such high demand, the funds are not expected to last, so those interested need to act quickly. Note that there are some circumstances in which someone can be disqualified from receiving unemployment benefits. If you are eligible for benefits, notify the unemployment office of your child support payments, and they will deduct them from your unemployment wages.
For questions about your specific situation along with additional resources, those interested can visit the Illinois Department of Employment Security website.
Work With A Family Court And The Child’s Other Parent
If you are currently without income, or if you anticipate a loss of income, whether it be due to the COVID-19 pandemic or other circumstances, meet with a family law attorney and/or the child’s other parent. Make them aware of your situation. In most cases, they can work with you, whether that is temporarily modifying your child support order or providing you with the necessary resources to ensure your responsibilities are being met.
Be cautious when it comes to modifying your child support agreement informally. Verbal out-of-court agreements can backfire and are not enforceable should your ex-spouse change his or her mind. To be safe, the best course of action is to file a petition to modify your child support, so it is important to speak to a family law attorney about your options.
Document Your Job Search
While the job market may not be the best right now, it’s still important to document your search to provide to your family lawyer and to the court. Keep track of the date, contact information and positions, as well as the results of each interview/job inquiry. Should you find and secure a new job, opt to pay your child support via check until your payments can be taken directly from your wages. If your prior order required you to pay via income withholding order, or to the State Disbursement Unit, it is very important that you send all child support payments (even if not the full amount) to the State Disbursement Unit. Paying directly to the other parent, while perhaps more convenient for both parties, could be considered a “gift” to that parent instead of the money being counted as child support.
Enlist The Help Of An Experienced Family Lawyer
While it may be tempting to skip the payments while you hold out for a better or additional source of income, the reality is that they do need to be made eventually. You should continue to pay for what you can afford to avoid accumulating any debt, especially since interest charges on past-due child support is 9% per the statute. Additionally, contempt citations can result in additional fines, attorney’s fees awards for the other parent, and other costs. Consult with a divorce or family attorney to help navigate your specific case and needs.
Kristen Strieker has extensive experience as a child support lawyer and can formulate divorce and custody agreements that incorporate support determinations, especially in times where your employment status may be uncertain. Contact her today to discuss any questions or concerns about your unique child support or maintenance situation.