Many government employees have finally received written notice of furloughs – temporary, unpaid leave – set to begin within the next several weeks. These furloughs are one portion of “the Sequester,” the across-the-board budget cuts that began March 1, 2013. Federal employees are facing up to one day in mandatory unpaid leave per week and the resulting loss of a fifth of their monthly income. But how does a furlough affect child support for Virginia residents?
Virginia’s child support laws provide a presumed correct amount of guideline child support based on each parent’s gross income. As circumstances change, courts are authorized to review and modify a child support award if and when there has been a material change in circumstances that justifies making a change. In a vacuum, a 20% pay cut is probably a big enough change for a court to amend child support.
The child support guidelines, however, only establish an amount of support that is “presumed correct.” A parent can offer evidence why the formula amount would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case. The most likely argument in a furlough situation would be the charge of underemployment: that a parent is not doing enough to maximize his or her income to the best of their abilities.
As discussed previously on this blog, Virginia seeks to determine if a parent is “voluntarily underemployed.” The key idea is that a parent is not maximizing his or her ability to provide for their children. Because furloughs resulting from the Sequester are automatic and involuntary, it is unlikely a Court would impute income to a furloughed parent.
The biggest potential hurdle to seeking a child support modification based on the Sequester is not legal but practical: it can take several months to pursue a litigated modification. It’s possible that while waiting for your trial the Sequester is lifted and there’s no longer a change in circumstances. And, of course, even if you are successful in lowering your child support obligation, when the furloughs end the other parent may well take you back to court to raise child support back up to the original amount.
If you have been, or anticipate being, furloughed because of the Sequester, be sure to discuss the specifics of your situation with a family lawyer in your jurisdiction. The attorney can help you determine the guideline child support amount given your lowered income, and advise you as to the process for modification of support in your particular jurisdiction.
With offices in Fairfax, Ashburn, Manassas and Fredericksburg, the family law attorneys of Livesay & Myers, P.C. are experienced with child support issues in jurisdictions across Northern Virginia. We can assist you in resolving such matters through negotiation and, if necessary, litigation. Contact us to schedule a consultation today.