Pay Child Support After Quitting A Job?
So, you’re working hard to support your family, and you depend on your ex-spouse to provide support to help with your children’s expenses. Most parents are happy to provide a fair amount of child support; they want what’s best for their children. Sometimes, however,
an ex-spouse decides she doesn’t want to work any longer or as hard – and then seeks to escape responsibility to help support her children. Can that tactic work?
“Both parents are mutually responsible for the support of their children.” Fam. Code § 4053(b). “Each parent should pay for the support of the children according to his or her ability.” Fam. Code § 4053(d). “The guideline seeks to place the interests of the children as the state’s top priority.” Fam. Code § 4053(e).
“The court may, in its discretion, consider the earning capacity of a parent in lieu of the parents’ income, consistent with the best interests of the children.” Fam. Code § 4058(b). An obligor/payor parent seeking a support reduction because he or she lost his or her job (or otherwise suffered an earnings reduction) bears the burden of proving he or she lacks ability and opportunity to earn. Marriage of Bardzik (2008) 165 Cal.App.4th 1291, 1304, 1308.
Child Support Reduction Cases
If the change in circumstances causing a reduction in the obligor’s income was within the obligor’s control, the trial court properly exercises discretion to deny a requested downward modification (keeping the obligation at the current level on the basis of earning capacity). See Marriage of Ilas (1993) 12 Cal.App.4th 1630, 1638-39 (husband unsuccessfully sought support reduction based on the fact that he had quit his pharmacist job to enter medical school); Marriage of Stephenson (1995) 39 Cal.App.4th 71, 81-3 (appellate court found that it was an error to reduce husband’s support obligation based on elected early retirement without considering earning capacity).
California law requires a support obligor to either work until normal retirement age (65) or income will be imputed to him. Marriage of Reynolds (1998) 63 Cal.App.4th 1373, 1377 (normal retirement age is 65).
As this short summary of the law shows, parents have a duty to work to the best of their capacity, even if they don’t want to, so they have the means with which to support their children. If a parent seeks to shirk her responsibility to financially support her children, the court will impute income to her based on her earning capacity and order her to pay support based on the income she could be earning if she didn’t voluntarily choose to reduce her work effort or quit working altogether.
This is fair to both parents and especially for the children.