Under Illinois law, child support may be modified upon a substantial change in circumstances. Normally, a job loss is considered a substantial change in circumstances which would warrant a modification of child support, but sometimes it isn’t. This post discusses two cases, and the reasons why the courts reached different outcomes.
Scenario #1: Father is working full-time and bringing in most of the family’s income. He and mother decide they are going to get a divorce, and she is awarded the majority of allocated parenting time with the children. Mother is seeking child support from father, who is an engineer. Due to a combination of his unreliability and misconduct at work, he is fired from his job during the pendency of the divorce. He was paying child support of $2,500 per month on a temporary basis during the pendency of the case. Now, after a few months, he is unable to find new employment and is living with his parents. Mother is seeking child support from father, but his position is that he should not be ordered to pay child support because he is not working.
The answer to the ultimate question of whether a child support payor is entitled to a reduction in child support here is that it depends on the circumstances of the change of employment status. For example, in Marriage of Imlay, the payor father was terminated from his employment as a salesman with Nationwide Papers. He was selling products to customers in person and over the phone in several Illinois counties, and was often on the road. After working there for a few years, he was convicted of drunk driving and his driver’s license was revoked. His contact with sales prospects grew sporadic such that he failed to meet his sales goals, and was discharged based on his nonperformance. He subsequently petitioned the court for a reduction in child support.
The court ultimately held that father’s conduct was deliberate and his discharge was not merely a fortuitous occurrence. The court reasoned that the DUI conviction adversely and foreseeably affected father’s ability to work effectively, maintain contact with his clients, and meet his sales goals. It noted that its decision to discharge him wasn’t solely because of the DUI, but was combination of that and his lack of contact with clients and sales.
In its ruling, the court noted that “a party who voluntarily changes employment resulting in a reduced income and seeks to modify a support obligation must show the employment change was made in good faith.” In other words, the party seeking modification must present evidence of a motive other than evasion of financial responsibility for the support of his children in support of the petition for modification. The court in Imlay held that the circumstances father presented above did not constitute a good faith motive for his loss of employment. Thus, the court did not reduce his child support obligation.
Scenario #2: Father is working full-time and bringing in most of the family’s income. He and Mother decide they are going to get a divorce, and Mother is awarded the majority of allocated parenting time with the children. She is seeking child support from Father, who is a legal assistant at a law firm. Father discovers that his true calling is to be an attorney, and he decides to go to law school full-time. He was paying child support of $600 per month on a temporary basis during the pendency of the case. Mother is seeking child support from Father, but Father is now a full-time student and currently not working at all. However, he is law school, earning good grades, and has some job prospects.
The Second District Appellate Court modified father’s child support obligation in a similar situation as above. In Coons v. Wilder, the parties divorced and the children were living with the mother. Father was paying monthly child support. He decided to attend law school full-time, and stopped working. The court held that his support obligation could be temporarily abated, during which time only one half of the total monthly support obligation would accrue as arrears.
The court reasoned that some relief was warranted because he was not deliberately trying to avoid paying support for his children. The court stated “the custodial parent and children cannot be allowed to freeze the other parent in his employment or otherwise preclude him from seeking economic improvement for himself and his family.” It further asserted that his educational investment was made in good faith and that he should be permitted to enhance his economic fortunes without penalty.
This does not mean, however, that a child support payor is free to resign from work with the hope that his or her support obligation would decrease as a result. As noted above, Illinois courts thoroughly assess the circumstances surrounding the change of employment status in determining whether a reduction in support is warranted. There is no hard-and-fast rule in this realm of the law, and it is very fact specific.
If you have questions or would like more information about child support modification, please contact us.