This is the next post in a series of articles discussing the potential impact that the pandemic may have on child support obligations in Las Vegas, Nevada. The previous article in this series focused on the process of requesting a modification of support payments. The requesting party must be prepared to present evidence that COVID-related changes in employment status or income are significant and that, as a result, support should be reduced. The evidence necessary to establish a parent’s justification for such a request in these unique circumstances may not be straightforward. An experienced attorney can help gather and present the appropriate persuasive evidence to the Court on your behalf. In this article, I will discuss how underemployment may impact support modification requests, particularly during the pandemic. If you need assistance, contact my office to speak with an attorney.
Parents have a duty under the law to financially support their children. Implied in this obligation, is that a parent who owes child support will make an effort to earn an income commensurate with their job skills. Said another way, one cannot voluntarily earn a low wage solely for the purpose of paying less child support than they would have otherwise been obligated to pay. If a parent chooses to earn less than they are capable of, then the Court may require them to pay support as if they were earning more. For example, a hotel general manager has been earning $100,000 per year. After being ordered to pay child support to their ex-spouse, the hotel manager resigns and starts working at a bar earning $25,000 per year. They then seek a reduction in support obligations based upon a significant drop in income. The Court would carefully review the evidence in such a case to determine why the parent chose their new employment path. This type of request may be denied if the Judge finds that the individual voluntarily left a lucrative profession to avoid paying child support.
This analysis may become less clear in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. A parent who is earning less than what they are capable of due to extenuating circumstances will not generally be considered underemployed. Given the widespread economic crisis caused by the pandemic causing mass layoffs and temporary or permanent business closures, many parents may find themselves earning far less than their pre-pandemic salaries. In the example above, for instance, say the hotel manager is laid off from their $100,000 a year job because the facility is temporarily shut down. The lower-paying bar job is the only option available until the hotel reopens. The fact that the person is underemployed, due to no fault of their own, would not be held against them. Other legitimate reasons for leaving one’s employment might include a medical condition preventing the person from doing their job. For instance, if the hotel manager is forced to leave his position because long-term COVID side effects prevent them from working full-time. In such a situation, again, the Court would likely not find that they were underemployed.
On the other hand, one cannot simply choose to leave their employment and claim that their decision was COVID related. For example, an individual who is employed as a grocery store manager who elects to quit their job and not seek new employment due to fear of exposure to COVID-19 may be viewed by the Court as underemployed. The outcome of any case will depend upon the specific facts and circumstances involved. Your attorney can help you understand your options. My office handles family law matters, including child support modification requests. If you need assistance, contact my office today to speak with a lawyer.