Can Child Support Payments Be Garnished From an Unemployment Check?

By Jennifer Kiesewetter, J.D.

Can Child Support Payments Be Garnished From an Unemployment Check?

By Jennifer Kiesewetter, J.D.

If you have a valid child support order and you lose your job, your state can deduct child support payments from your unemployment check. Your child support order remains in effect even if you're not working, meaning you still owe the monthly payment established by the court. You should understand how these child support payments can affect you if you become unemployed and are eligible for benefits from your state's department of labor.

Concerned mother sits next to her son as a man shows her an empty wallet

Child Support Payments

If you have already filed for divorce and have a valid child support order from a court, your financial obligations don't end if you lose your job. If you can't pay your child support or you don't make the full payments each month, you'll accumulate an amount owed to the custodial parent, called arrears. You'll owe these back payments until you're paid in full.

If you fail to pay child support, the custodial parent could file a motion for civil contempt against you. If the court determines that you violated the order by not paying, the court can attempt to collect the amount owed through other means, such as seizing property, like your car, or deducting money from your unemployment benefits.

Unemployment Benefits

Your state calculates your unemployment benefits based on your previous income, not on your monthly expenses. Since child support payments are expenses, your payments will not increase the amount of unemployment benefits you are eligible for.

If you're delinquent on your support payments, then the amount you owe may be deducted from your unemployment benefits. Your state governs how much can be deducted. Some states can deduct up to half of your benefit check to go toward any child support that you owe. You'll want to confirm with your state to understand to what extent your unemployment benefits will be affected.

Petition for Modification

If you lose your job, you may qualify for a modification of your child support obligation. Check with your local family court to see what the requirements are to file a petition. You'll need to submit proof to the court about your current employment and financial status along with any government assistance you're receiving, such as unemployment benefits.

If the court determines that your change in circumstances is significant, then you may have your financial obligations adjusted. However, if you aren't attempting to find a new job or you reject positions that would satisfy your obligations to your children, then the court may assign an income to you, also known as imputing income. Courts will often do this if they believe you're acting in bad faith.

If the court adjusts your support while you're unemployed, understand that the court can further change your obligation once you find work again. Your state's divorce laws control how often you or your ex-spouse can file a petition for modification.

Each state has different divorce laws and unemployment compensation laws. Understanding how your state operates will give you the proper direction if you lose your job.

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