Unemployment and Child Support

Unemployment and Child Support

By: M. Scott Gordon

As you may know, Illinois recently shifted to an “income shares” model for child support. This means that both parents in the Chicago area, regardless of whether one has more parenting time than the other, will contribute to the total child support obligation. Under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA), the total support obligation is calculated by combining both parents’ incomes and referencing that amount on the guidelines table. This does not mean that both parents contribute the same amount toward that total obligation, however. The court determines each parent’s percentage of support based on parenting time and other factors.

While the “income shares” model is designed to provide the child with the kind of financial support she or he would have received if the parents were still together, it can become complicated when one of the parents is unemployed or underemployed or, worse, when one of the parents becomes disabled or incarcerated. How does the “income shares” child support model work when one parent does not have a substantial income to contribute to the obligation?

Unemployment, Underemployment, and the Child Support Obligation

What if one of the parents is unemployed or underemployed (the latter referring to a situation in which a parent could be working more hours or earning more money but is not)? The way the court handles this situation depends in part upon the reason for the parent’s unemployment or underemployment. If the parent is unemployed or underemployed by choice, then the IMDMA says that support for the child can be calculated based on a determination of potential earnings. How does the court determine a parent’s potential income? It looks at the following for the parent who is voluntarily unemployed or underemployed:

  • Work history;
  • Occupational qualifications;
  • Prevailing job opportunities;
  • Ownership of non-income producing asset; and
  • Earning levels in the area.

When there is not enough information about the parent’s work history to make these other determinations, then the statute says that the parent’s potential income is 75 percent of the most recent federal poverty guidelines for an individual. For 2018, that number is $12,140. This method for determining the parent’s ability to pay child support when unemployment or underemployment is voluntary is designed to prevent a parent from quitting his or her job simply to avoid paying child support.

Minimum Child Support Contributions and the Inability to Work

Generally speaking, there is a minimum child support obligation of $40 per month per child under the IMDA. However, this minimum child support obligation does not apply when parents are unable to work and to earn money with which to contribute to a child support obligation. Indeed, if unemployment is not voluntary, then the court can issue what is called a “zero dollar child support order.”

Learn More from a Chicago Child Support Lawyer

If you have questions about child support obligations for unemployed or underemployed parties, an experienced Chicago child support lawyer can help. Contact Gordon & Perlut, LLC to learn more.