Losing A Job Is Hard. Paying Child Support Without An Income Is Even Harder.
Even in the best of times, people in the Colorado Springs area can and do lose their jobs, including divorced parents who need to figure out the relationship between child support and unemployment.
Child support payments that may have made sense months or years ago may no longer be appropriate or feasible when one parent finds themselves without a steady income or earns significantly less than they used to. In such cases, the unemployed or underemployed parent can ask the El Paso or other local court for a reduction in their child support obligations, so long as their changed circumstances were not of their own making.
Unemployment Can Be A “Substantial and Continuing Change in Circumstances,” Justifying Reduction In Child Support
Not every change in circumstances, including a reduction in income, will justify modifying a child support order in Colorado. Before a Colorado Springs judge considers adjusting the amount of child support, the parent requesting the adjustment must show a “substantial and continuing change in circumstances” resulting in a 10 percent or more change in the current child support obligation.
Unemployment certainly fits the bill of a “substantial and continuing change in circumstances,” as does a large pay cut or taking a new job that pays a lot less than the parent earned before losing their job. But unemployment or underemployment caused by economic conditions or other external factors is one thing. Tanking one’s income intentionally to avoid or reduce child support obligations is quite another.
“Voluntary” Unemployment Or Underemployment Won’t Cut It
When a payor of child support seeks a reduction of their obligations, the “substantial and continuing change in circumstances” sufficient to justify such a reduction cannot be one that they brought upon themselves. Sad to say, an unscrupulous parent may quit their job or intentionally reduce their income through “voluntary underemployment” or taking a job that pays less than they previously were earning, solely to stick it to the other parent or deny their child the support they deserve.
Fortunately, Colorado law recognizes this kind of ploy. If a Colorado Springs family court judge finds that the payor is playing games with their income, they can stop them from doing so and ensure that they pay their fair share.
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“Potential Income” Used to Calculate Child Support
If a reduction in income – such as quitting a job or taking a much lower-paying job – was voluntary and done in bad faith, a Colorado Springs family court can base its child support calculations on the parent’s “potential income” rather than their actual, reduced income.
C.R.S. §14-10-115(b)(I) provides that:
If a parent is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed, child support shall be calculated based on a determination of potential income; except that a determination of potential income shall not be made for a parent who is physically or mentally incapacitated or is caring for a child under the age of thirty months for whom the parents owe a joint legal responsibility or for an incarcerated parent sentenced to one year or more.
In determining the amount of potential income the courts will use to calculate child support amounts, the judge will consider the specific circumstances of the parent paying the child support, including the following factors:
- employment and earnings history;
- job skills;
- educational attainment;
- record of seeking work;
- the local job market;
- criminal record;
- other employment barriers;
- the availability of employers hiring in the community;
- prevailing earnings level in the local community;
- and other relevant factors in the case.
Not All “Underemployment” Justifies Calculating “Potential Income”
Colorado law makes it clear that not all cases of underemployment support the application of potential income in child support determinations. Specifically, the law provides that a parent is not “underemployed” when:
- Their employment is temporary and reasonably intended to result in higher income within the foreseeable future; or
- The parent’s employment is a good faith career choice not intended to deprive a child of support and does not unreasonably reduce available support; or
- So long as it is a good faith career choice, the parent is enrolled in an educational program reasonably intended to result in a degree or certification within a reasonable period that will result in a higher income.
Questions About Child Support and Unemployment? Call Colorado Springs Family Law Attorneys at Perkins Law Today.
Life keeps changing long after the ink dries on your divorce decree. If those changes involve child support and unemployment, the experienced attorneys at Perkins Law in Colorado Springs can help you sort through the issues of financial maintenance for your children and find a fair and workable path forward. And, we offer a free initial consultation with our lawyers, so you have nothing to lose by contacting us today, and possibly a little more peace of mind to gain.
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