Unemployment and child support

In recession-wracked Illinois, the number of unemployed parents applying to reduce their child support obligations has skyrocketed:

The number of Illinois parents requesting court reviews to lower the child support they pay has nearly tripled in recent years.

The number jumped from 4,219 in 2006 to 12,629 last year. Meanwhile support collected through unemployment compensation spiked from $17.6 million to $106.9 million during that period.

The numbers provide a snapshot of the toll high unemployment is taking on the state’s children.


The problem extends beyond the unemployed to the self-employed and others whose income has been cut, said Chicago attorneys Erin Bognar and Michelle Lawless, who represent the parents required to provide child support and those receiving it.

“It’s not necessarily just the loss of a job,” Bognar said. “People that are in sales where a lot of their income might be based on commissions, they say the economy is terrible, my commissions have gone down,” and they also are seeking to have payments lowered.

Family courts have been inundated, Lawless said, with custodial parents being more vigilant in seeking court action before parents get too far behind.

“It’s hitting across all walks of life,” she said. “High-income earners, low-, middle-income earners, everyone is being hit. It’s an across-the-board problem.”

If you are a support payor who becomes unemployed, or if your income falls dramatically, the biggest mistake you can make is failing to immediately commence a court application to vary your support payments.

This is especially true if your payments are made through a government agency like Nova Scotia’s Maintenance Enforcement Program, which may garnish your income (including Employment Insurance, or Worker’s Compensation benefits) should your payments fall into arrears.  I’ve had clients come to me seeking to have their arrears forgiven or reduced years after their incomes fell, and that kind of procrastination rarely makes a good impression upon the Court.

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