Does an Unemployed Parent Have to Pay Child Support?

By Gerald A. Maggio, Esq.

Top Orange County divorce mediators; California divorce mediatorsAccording to California law, it is the legal duty of both parents to provide financial support to their child/children, even if the parents are not married. The income earned by both parents plays a pivotal role in determining how much support the child/children in concern would need.

Sadly, a lot of parents end up fighting child support by willingly reducing their income. They do this by working fewer hours or by opting to be unemployed on purpose.  The motivating factor behind such an action is usually revenge against the spouse or the system. However, the actual victims here are usually the children.

An Overview

As far as California is concerned, child support is a legal obligation until children reach the age of 18 and are out of high school. Under certain conditions, they can be eligible till the age of 19.

It is possible for parents to agree on a certain amount as child support. However, for it to be enforced in the court of law, the case must be presented before a judge. Such a case is usually presented to the judge by either the parent or the California Department of Child Support Services on the child’s behalf.

The amount is usually settled by the court after seeking agreement from both parents.

The child support is paid to the custodial parent, as the law believes that he/she is already spending money on the child by providing care. So, the responsibility of child support falls on the non-custodial parent.

Child support is calculated by taking several factors into consideration such as child-related expenses and income earned by both parents.


Before we understand how unemployment affects a parent who has been ordered to pay child support, we must first look at how child support is determined. There is a formula that is used by the Californian government to calculate child support.  As we stated earlier, there are many factors at play here.

To put it simply, it is impossible to avoid child support even when unemployed. For example, Californian courts will look at other income sources such as dividends from bonds or stocks, rent, unemployment benefits and health insurance etc.

In other words, the court will impute income to the unemployed parent. They will consider the concerned parent’s ability and willingness to work, while also assessing available opportunities to work. If there are no valid reasons to support the unemployment, the parent will be forced to pay child support one way or another.  The parent can try modifying the child support order to avoid paying, but, that rarely works.

To learn more about the divorce process in California and how mediation can help, please visit our page, What is Divorce Mediation