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Child support: What unemployed California parents should know

When a California family court orders a parent to provide financially for his or her children, that parent must strictly adhere to the terms of the court order. The amount of child support, as well as how and when payments are to be made may vary according to state guidelines and the court’s discretion regarding a particular case. If a paying parent unexpectedly loses his or her job, making timely payments may be impossible.

It is important to remember, however, that as long as there is an existing court order that states a particular parent is required to make child support payments of a certain amount at specific times, that parent is legally obligated to adhere to the terms of the order. Even if the parent is unemployed, the legal obligation remains regarding financially providing for the children. However, it is possible to file a petition to request modification of a court order.

Many parents make the mistake of trying to resolve modification issues on their own, without notifying the court. This can create more legal problems. Even if the co-parent agrees that a payment amount can be lowered or temporarily halted altogether, it basically means nothing from a legal standpoint as long as an existing court order states otherwise. If a parent becomes unemployed, he or she can file a request for modification, but should be prepared to show evidence of need to the judge overseeing the case.

A California family court judge may consider unexpected job loss or even a lowered income due to an employment change to be a legitimate reason to request modification of a child support order. Unless and until the court grants modification, the existing terms of the court order must be obeyed. A parent may find him or herself being held in contempt of court if he or she stops making payments without the court’s permission.