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Can You Lower Child Support by Quitting Your Job?

Sophia Merton
January 26, 2024

If you just got divorced, there’s a good chance you’re trying to piece your life back together financially. When you realize that you might be on the hook for court-ordered monthly payments, the idea might cross your mind to try and lower child support by quitting your job.

While this might be tempting, it’s probably not going to work. Not even getting into the moral questions surrounding this idea, you’ll want to understand the ways that courts try and ensure people aren't slipping out of child support obligations through intentional unemployment or underemployment.

In short:

  • courts in Texas are able to attribute a certain income to you based on your earning potential rather than your actual earnings.

If you quit your job to try and avoid child support, you could find yourself in a sport where your child support obligation is just as high as it would have been, except you no longer have any income to make those payments.

Can You Lower Child Support by Quitting Your Job?

It is not at all uncommon for a parent to purposefully under-employ themselves or even quit the job they have with the intent of avoiding child support. Since child support in Texas is based on the noncustodial parent’s income, the goal is to try to pay less child support by reducing their income. In some cases, individuals will then secure a higher-paying position once the child support amounts have been established.

pennies in a jar used to pay for child support in texas

Going this route can be tempting if you feel that the child support orders are unfair, given your circumstances. However, it’s generally not a good idea to quit your job when there is a child support order in place. Furthermore, the court can impute income to you if your child support case is ongoing, meaning they can base your child support payments on the amount of money they think you should be able to earn, not how much you actually do earn.

  • If you lose your job, you can request that the child support order be modified. Even though this process can take some time, if your efforts are successful, the court might retroactively change child support starting with the date that you filed the modification petition.

If you quit your job, on the other hand, the court might:

  • Assign a higher income to you based on earning capacity rather than actual income and use this information to calculate child support
  • Cause the court to believe you are intentionally reducing your income in order to manipulate the system

It’s important, also, to understand that child support modification cases can be incredibly slow-moving. Furthermore, this isn’t something that will just automatically happen– you have to drive it forward.

Intentional Vs. Unintentional Underemployment

If you’re thinking about quitting your job, it’s important to understand that the courts have the discretion to attribute income to you based on your earning potential. This means that they can look at your past employment history, your skills, your education, and other factors to determine how much you could be making and then base child support payments on that.

Another important point is that family court decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. This means that there is no way to know how they will rule until the decision is made.

black and white photo of a kid looking through a window whose parent quit their job to reduce child support

  • Quitting your job or getting a lower-paying job to reduce your child support obligation is known as intentional underemployment.
  • On the other hand, unintentional underemployment means that you experienced a significant decrease in income or a job loss.

When considering whether your child support orders should be changed, a court might look at the following:

  • The efforts you’ve made to increase your income or secure employment
  • Your historical earning capacity
  • The reasons for your underemployment

A court might modify your child support orders if they find that your underemployment is legitimate rather than an attempt to avoid child support obligations.

Take a look at our guide to finding the best child support lawyer in Texas.

What Are the Laws in Texas About Employment Changes and Child Support?

Generally, the actual income a parent earns is the number that will be used to calculate how much child support is owed in Texas. There is, however, a section in the Texas Family Code (154.066) that speaks directly about underemployment and unemployment.

help wanted sign in window after noncustodial parent quit job to reduce child support

A particular case changed how Texas courts applied 154.066, with a split amongst courts regarding how much proof is necessary related to a parent’s income.

In the Texas Supreme Court case Iliff v. Iliff, No. 09-753, the court found that courts can apply support guidelines based on the earning potential of the noncustodial parent when intentional unemployment or underemployment appears to be occurring.

The ruling of the case states the following:

  • Proof of intentional underemployment or unemployment isn’t required based on the language of 154.066
  • Trial courts can apply the child support guidelines to an individual’s earning potential rather than their actual earnings without proving an intent to avoid child support
  • Trial courts are able, though, to consider the potential intent to not make support payments as one of many factors when analyzing intentional unemployment or underemployment

Basically, if someone tries to lower their income in order to avoid child support payments, the court has the ability to respond. Of course, as will all child support and custody cases in Texas, the priority is always going to be the child’s best interest.

How Child Support Is Affected By Changes in Income in Texas

How your child support obligation is impacted by a change in income is going to depend on the specific factors of the case. Here are some general things you’ll want to know about income changes and child support orders in Texas.

What Happens If You Lost Your Job

The first thing you’ll want to do is contact the Texas Attorney General’s office if you lost your job and owe child support.

It’s crucial to understand that your monthly payment amount will only be changed through a court order. This means that you need to keep up with your current child support payments until the modification is made.

Are you curious to know whether you and your spouse can agree to forgo child support payments entirely? Check out our guide here.

What Happens If You’ve Experienced an Income Reduction

If you got a new job that pays less than your previous job, it’s possible you can get the amount of money you owe in child support changed.

kid in a field whose parent quit their job to lower child support payments

You can contact the Office of the Attorney General to request a review of your child support obligations. However, you will need to continue making payments while your request is being reviewed and processed.

Looking to keep your divorce as peaceful as possible? Head over to our post about amicable divorce in Texas.

What Happens If You Only Work Part-Time

When creating child support orders, the court will look at:

  • Your ability to work
  • Your ability to earn income
  • Your past employment
  • The current federal minimum wage

This means that they might use an income higher than your actual part-time income in order to calculate child support payments.

Are you going to owe alimony in addition to child support? Check out our recent post about spousal support in Texas.

What Happens If You Receive Unemployment Benefits

If you are currently receiving unemployment benefits, your earnings from unemployment will be withheld in order to make your child support payments. The agency that deals with taking child support payments from unemployment benefits is known as the Texas Workforce Commission.

If your wages are being withheld from unemployment earnings, the Texas Workforce Commission can take up to half of these earnings in order to meet your monthly child support payments.

I Owe Back Child Support. Can My New Wages Be Reflected in These Payments?

You can request that the Office of the Attorney General review your payment order. During this process, they will determine whether or not they feel your payment amount should be adjusted based on income changes.

It’s important to understand that the noncustodial parent might end up making payments for an extended period of time if the court makes a new court order or adjusts the amount that is withheld from the noncustodial parent’s paychecks.

Are you soon to be a single parent and wondering what divorce will mean for you? Take a look at our guide to divorce for stay-at-home moms in Texas.

Navigating Child Support and Divorce in Texas

Divorce is always hard, but things get a lot more complicated when kids are involved. If you’re considering trying to lower child support by quitting your job, it’s worth understanding that this might not work as expected. Texas courts are able to impute income, meaning they can assign a certain income level to you that they believe you are capable of earning rather than applying guidelines to your actual earnings.

Are you searching for more resources to help you navigate divorce and child support questions in Texas? If so, make sure you check out our Texas Family Law blog!

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is a researcher and writer that aims to help make the complexities of the legal system understandable to the layperson. Believing that people can be empowered by understanding their rights and responsibilities under the law, Sophia aims to offer accurate and well-researched information in straightforward and easy-to-digest legal articles.

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