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Can I get child support if the payor parent is unemployed?

Yes. In and of itself, unemployment is not an excuse for the other parent not to pay child support, nor is it necessarily a reason that a court will rely on to avoid imposing child support obligations on him or her in the first place.

At a basic level, every parent has a legal obligation to financially support his or her child, to the best of their ability. Parents are always expected to maximize both income-earning ability and actual income, so that they bring as much financial support “to the table” as is reasonably possible.

If a parent is currently unemployed, this does not mean that his or her existing child support duty automatically or necessarily ends. Instead, the court will look at the reason for the parent’s joblessness, his or her historic and projected earning capacity, as well as the likelihood of re-employment at the same or different levels.

So if you are seeking support from the other parent who is currently unemployed, the court will look at the reason for it, and adjust his or her legal duty accordingly. This includes assessing whether the job loss was voluntary or self-imposed. If it seems the parent has orchestrated deliberate unemployment (or underemployment) to avoid child support obligations, the court can impute income as if the parent was still working, and order child support to be paid accordingly.

In other words: Child support duties are based not only on what a parent actually earns at any given moment, but what he or she could and should earn. Unemployment can be a factor in this equation, but this does not mean an out-of-work parent is entirely off the hook.

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