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Unemployment and Washington Child Support
What happens to my Washington child support now that I do not have a job?
We are often asked by clients what happens to their Washington child support payment if they become unemployed. Many people erroneously believe that their WA support will automatically be stopped or reduced if they lose their job. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In fact, just the opposite is true.
If your employment stops, for whatever reason, your Washington child support order will not be affected in any way unless you take affirmative action to have it modified. And, more importantly, you must act quickly. Under Washington child support law, it is extremely difficult to have back support removed from your support obligation. Once it becomes due, it must be paid.
That is why waiting even a month or two before attempting to modify your order can become very expensive. Even if the court or DCS agrees that a modification is appropriate, they will not make the order effective as of the date of your unemployment. Instead, any support that accrued while you were unemployed, but before your new order was entered, will still be at the amount of your original order. This is why it is important to act quickly once your income drops dramatically.
Your Washington Child Support Order and unemployment benefits.
Your Washington State Child Support Order sets a specific monthly payment amount, which is often also referred to as your "transfer payment". This WA Child Support Order could have been entered by either a Washington Superior Court judge, or by the Division of Child Support (DCS) through the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).
Unfortunately, DCS doesn't care if you lose your job and suddenly can no longer afford your child support payment. In most Washington child support cases, they are happy to let massive arrearages accrue and then will refuse to reduce them even after learning that you are now unemployed. The bottom line is that you will continue to owe the full amount due in your Washington Child Support Order Child Support even when you do not have a job.
Additionally, in the vast majority of cases, DCS will not stop taking collection action against you even your are not gainfully employed and receiving a paycheck. Although shocking, this is absolutely true. On the flip side, if you are owed WA child support, your best move may be sitting back and doing nothing if the person paying child support suddenly becomes unemployed. Any money not paid under the order will simply accrue as back support.
Will DCS take may unemployment benefits? Yes!
You may also be shocked to learn that DCS will attempt to garnish your unemployment benefits, even if this makes it impossible for you to pay your rent, buy food, and meet other basic necessities. If you pay your Washington child support through the Washington State Support Registry (WSSR), your unemployment benefits are subject to immediate garnishment.
Under this arrangement, the WA Division of Child Support (DCS) can withhold up to 50 percent (half) of your unemployment check. And, if the half of your benefit that they take is insufficient to pay your current support order, you will be expected to pay the difference directly to WSSR. Of course, in most cases, this is simply impossible.
As a result, DCS is happy to add any monthly deficiencies to the past due amount you owe. This is often referred to as "back support" or "arrearages". And, if you get too far behind, DCS will have your driving privileges suspended, which, of course, is a great thing to do when someone is looking for a job.
In most cases, once DCS learns of and obligor's unemployment benefit, they will take as much as they legally can garnish. The bottom line is that DCS will not hesitate to garnish your unemployment check if they can legally do so. And, in most cases, they can legally do so. If you have questions about this issue, we encourage you to call our offices and speak with one of our Washington child support attorneys.
I have a large Washington child support debt (past due support), and I need to have my payment lowered.
If have a significant back support debt, it is probably time to review the original order. It may be in your best interests to have the original order modified. If you file a modification in Superior Court, you can also attempt to address the issue of back support payments based on your current ability to pay. If you have questions about whether or not you have a legal basis to modify your current order of support, please go to our page discussing how to modify Washington child support.
In the alternative, you can also try talking with your Support Enforcement Officer (SEO). about lowering the past due support payment. If you and your SEO cannot agree on a payment amount, ask for a Conference Board.
A Conference Board is an informal review that allows you to talk with a Conference Board Chair (DCS attorney) about your disagreement with DCS. If your dispute cannot be resolved in a written decision, a phone or in-office meeting is held.
A Conference Board can give you relief from a collection action, or from a high support debt owed to the state. For more information about Conference Boards, contact your SEO and ask for our brochure titled, “Do You Need a Conference Board?” (DSHS 22-386).
What do I do if my unemployment benefits change or I return to work?
Call your SEO as soon as you know your income is changing. If you do not contact your SEO, DCS can send payroll deduction to your new employer for up to 50 percent of your take home pay.
My income is lower on the new job. How do I get my child support payment changed?
Ask your SEO for a modification review to see if your case meets the rules that allow DCS to refer it to the prosecuting attorney for modification.
DCS asks you and the other parent to complete review forms and confirms your incomes. The review process can take over 30 days. Ask for DCS brochure 22-652, “Child Support Review and Modification.”
Once a year and at your own expense, you as a custodial or noncustodial parent can petition the court to change (modify) the child support order by:
Hiring us to assist you
Going to court on your own (pro se) with help from a family law court facilitator.
Facilitator’s help parents understand the way the court works and provide the forms needed to modify a court order. Court Facilitators charge a fee and do not give legal advice or provide legal representation.
Forms are available at http://www.courts.wa.gov/forms/
The good things about modifying your child support on your own or by using an attorney are:
A Superior Court Judge can hear the case faster
DCS must send a case to the prosecuting attorney to see if the case meets their modification rules. The DCS process can take up to 6 months.
When a Washington State Administrative Order sets child support
Either parent can ask DCS to modify the support order without asking for a review. If your income changed since DCS entered the administrative order, you can ask for an administrative hearing.
I do not have a case with DCS, what do I do?
If you are paying or receiving child support directly from the other party, but you want DCS to review your court order, you can apply for full collection of services and ask for a review for modification.