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Wheaton child support attorneyIf you are a parent who relies on child support payments to cover the costs associated with your children’s housing, school and extracurricular activities, and child care, you know just how important this financial assistance is. When a paying parent or “obligor” fails to make child support payments in full and on time, this can lead to significant financial hardship. In many cases, child support non-payment is due to unemployment or underemployment. Read on to learn about how a parent’s employment status may influence the amount of child support they are required to pay.

Is the Obligor’s Employment Status Involuntary?

Illinois child support orders are calculated via the “Income Shares” model. The main factor in determining the amount of parents’ child support obligations is the net income each parent earns. If your child’s other parent is not working, working only part time, or earns a very low income, you may wonder how this will affect your child support order. 

To answer this question, the court must first determine whether a parent’s unemployment or underemployment is voluntary or involuntary. Involuntary unemployment or underemployment may qualify a parent for a lowered child support obligation. For example, if a parent has been laid off from their job due to no fault of their own, the amount they pay in child support may be reduced accordingly, although the court will likely require the parent to seek employment that will allow them to contribute toward their children’s needs. However, if a parent has quit his or her job, chooses to work limited hours, or lost his or her job but makes little effort to find gainful employment, this situation will likely be treated differently under Illinois law.  

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DuPage County child support attorney for college expensesThe average cost of a 4-year public college education is just over $45,000. If the student attends a private or out-of-state school, that number can rise to $100,000-$150,000, or even more. Understandably, paying for children’s college tuition and fees is a major concern for many parents. The question of how to finance a child’s college education becomes even more pressing if the parents are unmarried or divorced. If you plan to end your marriage or were never married to your child’s other parent, it is essential that you understand your rights and obligations regarding non-minor support for college expenses.

How Much Money Are Parents Required to Contribute to Their Child’s College Education?

Illinois courts have the authority to require parents who are unmarried or divorced to contribute toward their children’s college expenses. These expenses may include tuition, housing, textbooks and fees, living expenses, medical insurance, and medical expenses. Courts may order parents’ financial contributions to be paid to the child, the university or college, or to either parent. 

There is no statutory formula for calculating the amount that each parent must pay toward the child’s education. However, there is a cap on the amount of money that a parent can be ordered to contribute. According to Illinois law, the amount that a parent is required to contribute cannot surpass the current cost of in-state tuition and fees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Parents’ obligations end if the student fails to maintain a “C” average, turns 23, receives his or her bachelor’s degree, or gets married. Parents are not typically ordered to contribute to their child’s master’s degree or other advanced education. In special circumstances, a court may make an exception to these rules.  

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Wheaton divorce lawyerChild support payments after a divorce in Illinois are determined via the Income Shares model. This calculation method takes into account the parents’ income and if the parents have a shared parenting arrangement, each parent’s allotted parenting time. Either parent may request a modification, or adjustment, to the child support order, however, these requests are not always granted. Sometimes, a parent may try to change a child support order in such a way that it places an unfair burden on the recipient parent. There are some situations in which it may be best to contest a child support modification request.

How Are Child Support Orders Changed?

Illinois child support orders are entitled to a modification review every three years. During a modification review, the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services (IHFS) evaluates each parent’s financial circumstances and determines whether or not a child support order should be adjusted. Child support orders may also qualify for a modification if there is a “substantial change in circumstances” that necessitates the change or if the current order does not provide for the child’s healthcare needs. If a parent requests a modification but the other parent disagrees, he or she may contest the child support modification.

Reasons for Challenging a Child Support Modification

A parent cannot ask to reduce his or her child support obligation unless there is a valid reason. Job loss or a significant reduction in income is often cited as the justification for requesting such changes. However, if a parent quits his or her job, takes a voluntary pay cut, or chooses to work fewer hours, this is typically not a valid reason to request a lowered child support obligation. If a parent loses his or her job or is laid off involuntarily, he or she must make a good faith effort to find adequate employment. If a parent has the ability to earn a living, he or she cannot simply choose not to work in order to avoid paying child support. It may also be a good idea to contest a child support modification if the paying parent claims that he or she cannot afford the current child support order but is also spending money on extravagant and unnecessary purchases.

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Wheaton child support lawyerIf you are a single parent, you know just how difficult it can be to pay for child-related expenses on your own. Making ends meet without financial support from your child’s other parent can be exhausting. According to Illinois law, both parents are expected to financially contribute to their child’s upbringing even if the parents are unmarried or divorced. A parent is also expected to provide financial support even if he or she does not have parenting time, or visitation rights, with the child. If your child’s other parent is not paying child support, there are several actions you can take to get the financial assistance you and your child need.

Establishing Child Support

The state of Illinois only has the authority to enforce child support payments that have been legally established. If you and your child’s other parent had an informal agreement regarding child support, this is likely unenforceable. To start receiving payments, you will need to obtain an official court order for child support. However, to get an order for child support, your child’s other parent must be legally recognized as his or her parent. If your child’s father is not paying child support and paternity has not been established, you will need to legally name your child’s father before you can obtain a child support order. Depending on your particular circumstances, this may be as simple as having the father sign a Voluntary Acknowledgement of Paternity (VAP). If the father contests his paternity, it may necessitate a DNA paternity test or require other steps.

Enforcing a Current Child Support Order

If you already have a child support order, but your child’s other parent is violating the order, you have a right to seek enforcement. Parents who violate a court order for child support can be held in contempt of court and face criminal consequences. However, going through the court system is not always the best way to enforce a child support order. The Department of Healthcare and Family Services’ Division of Child Support Services (DCSS) can help parents with a variety of needs including:

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If you have recently been laid off, furloughed or terminated from your employment and you have a child support or maintenance obligation, you may want to consider the filing of a petition to modify those payments. Section 510 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act provides that child support and maintenance may be modified upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances. However, the modification can only be made retroactive to the date of filing and notice.

No one is certain of the long-term ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic. The length of a furlough, or layoff, or time between jobs may be longer than initially expected. Complying with court orders is required and regardless of the circumstances, the court can do nothing to reduce the amount that you will ultimately owe until you have a petition on file. Loss of employment under current conditions will most likely be considered a substantial change in circumstances. However, no relief can be granted unless it is asked for.  If circumstances do not improve, addressing the issue early may prevent financial catastrophe later. If all improve, the petition can be withdrawn. Do the best you can but protect yourself long-term.

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