Do I Have to Pay Child Support Without a Job?

Do I Have to Pay Child Support Without a Job

Many parents wonder, ‘Do I Have to Pay Child Support Without a Job?’ The answer to this situation is that even if a noncustodial parent is unemployed, they will still owe child support. There are few exceptions to this rule. Speaking with an experienced attorney can help you make the best choices for your unique situation.

What is child support? 

Child support is money a parent pays to help with the cost of raising a child. This includes costs like food, housing, clothing, school supplies, daycare, and activities.

A court can order one parent to pay child support to the other parent. The obligation to pay child support begins when the judge signs an order.

A court can sometimes also order a parent to pay retroactive or “back” child support. Texas law expects both parents to provide financial support for their child, even without a court order. A court could order a parent to pay back child support if:

  • They do not live with the child; and
  • They have not helped support the child financially.

Who pays child support? Who receives it? 

In most custody arrangements, a child lives with one parent most of the time. This is the “custodial” parent. The “non-custodial” parent has visitation rights on a regular basis.

The non-custodial parent (the “obligor”) has the obligation to make child support payments. The custodial parent (the “obligee”) has the right to receive these payments.

How can I get child support?

A court can order child support as part of the following legal proceedings:

  • Divorce;
  • Child custody case, also known as a Suit Affecting the Parent-Child Relationship (SAPCR);
  • Paternity case;
  • Family violence protective order case; or
  • Modification case, if a court order affecting the child is already in place.

What if the obligor is unemployed or underemployed? 

If the obligor does not have a job, the court can base child support on the amount the obligor would earn at a full-time minimum-wage job. The current minimum wage is $7.25 per hour or $290 per week before taxes. This presumption does not apply if the obligor is in prison or jail for at least 90 days.

Intentional unemployent or underemployment can be a different story. If an obligor could earn more money but chooses not to, the court can look at their earning potential.

Suppose for example, that a parent has earned a good salary for many years. At some point before the court orders child support, they quit that job and take a new job with a fraction of the pay. The purpose of child support is to benefit the child. The parent’s reasons for the change in employment are not as important as the effect on the child. The court will consider whether the obligor is trying to avoid child support. They can consider how much the parent could be making when setting the amount.

What if the obligor goes to jail or prison? 

Texas law states that a judge should not order child support if:

  • The obligor is in jail or prison at the time the court is making the order; and
  • They will continue to be in jail or prison for at least 90 days.

Either parent can file to establish child support when the obligor gets out. This often involves filing to modify an existing custody order.

An existing child support obligation does not end if the obligor goes to jail or prison. A sentence of at least 90 days, however, is a “substantial and material change in circumstances” that would justify a change in the amount of child support. Either parent can file a motion to modify. A court might reduce the amount the obligor must pay, or it can temporarily suspend payments until the obligor’s release.

If you are facing divorce, it is highly advised that you speak with legal counsel immediately. Renken Law Firm, PLLC is well-versed in the Texas divorce process. The team of compassionate and knowledgeable Houston attorneys know what it takes to aggressively pursue favorable solutions for their clients in the courtroom and ensure that their interests compellingly put forth before the judge.

Affordable Family Lawyer in Houston, TX

Renken Law Firm is here to help couples who wish to dissolve their marriage, whether that be through divorce or legal separation. We are here to help those who are ending marriages that have been contested, uncontested, or collaborative. We are fully prepared to help you navigate the specifics of your case. All marriages are different, making each divorce equally unique with its own set of needs that must be addressed. Contact our law office to explore your options moving forward, and find out how we can help you.


Renken Law Firm, PLLC
11500 Northwest Fwy #586
Houston, TX 77092
(713) 956-6767
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