As if going through a divorce weren’t traumatizing enough, our country is now facing the worst employment market since the Great Depression due to the coronavirus pandemic. If you have recently lost your job, what does that mean for your co-parenting plan, child custody arrangements, and any child support payments you might owe? Also, how should you break the job loss news to your ex-spouse and your children?
Here’s what you need to know about co-parenting and unemployment:
Talk to Your Ex
In most situations, honesty is the best policy. When you lose your job, it’s important to let your ex-spouse know. Even though you are no longer a couple, you are still parents together, and your job situation will affect your children, which means it will affect your spouse.
In a best-case scenario, you and your ex have a collaborative relationship, and your ex may even be someone you can turn to for emotional or financial support. In a worst-case scenario, if you worry that your spouse will use your job loss to fight your child custody arrangement, speak with a lawyer to plan your legal defense. If you cannot afford an attorney, check your state bar association to see if you can find any lawyers who volunteer their time or offer complimentary consultations.
Consider Revising Your Co-Parenting Plan
Your schedule will change as a result of your job loss. Maybe your children are currently in daycare and you now have the time to care for them at home. Maybe you would like your ex to be available to take the children if you need to travel for a job interview.
If you and your spouse have a collaborative relationship, this is a good opportunity to review and revise your co-parenting plan. You may even be able to come up with a plan that benefits both you and your ex. For example, you may both save money if you can take care of your children during the week instead of putting them in daycare, and maybe your ex can get the children on most weekends since you’ll have more time with them during the week.
Ask your ex for flexibility and patience and be willing to consider their perspective and wishes.
Modify Your Child Support Payments
If you are currently paying child support to your ex-spouse, that expense may become difficult to meet when you lose your job income. However, child support obligations don’t automatically stop just because you aren’t working. They’ll keep piling up, putting you in a financial hole that may be difficult to climb out of.
You can seek to lower or temporarily pause your child support payments by petitioning the court with a Motion to Modify Child Support. Keep in mind that it often takes months to get a hearing, so it’s a good idea to file your motion as soon as you lose your job.
Another thing to know is that any government benefits you receive, such as unemployment benefits, will be counted as income and factored into your child support payments.
How Job Loss Affects Child Custody
Parents who have an antagonistic relationship with their ex may worry that a job loss will give their ex grounds to request a higher amount of child custody or full custody. For many, these fears are unfounded. Your job status is not a primary consideration when a judge decides child custody matters. Instead, a judge will make their decision based on the best interest of the child. In other words, you cannot lose custody of your child just because you are unemployed. Your ex would have to make a case that your job loss will negatively affect your children, put them in harm’s way, or dramatically lower their quality of life in order to modify your child custody arrangement.
Talk to Your Children
Your first instinct after losing your job might be to hide this information from your children. In an article for VeryWellFamily.com, Amy Morin explains, “Although it’s tempting to keep the news under wraps to spare your children worry and stress, kids can sense when something’s wrong.” More to the point, if you don’t speak with them, they may start dreaming up worst-case scenarios.
Morin recommends calling a family meeting and breaking the news to your kids at an age-appropriate level. Make sure you are calm and collected when you have the conversation. If the job loss is still raw, wait a few days. The more upset you are, the more stressed your children will feel.
Morin suggests having a plan ready, so your children have some idea of what to expect. It’s not a good idea to lie to them or sugarcoat the situation. At the same time, don’t lay all your worst fears and worries on their shoulders. Let them know that you are looking for a new job while also explaining what changes they can expect in the meantime. Maybe vacations or after school lessons will have to be scaled back, for example. This is also the time to discuss any new revisions to your co-parenting plan.
Be ready to answer questions and to comfort your children. Even though a job loss can be a traumatic situation for you, make the space to acknowledge your children’s’ concerns and worry as well. At the end of the meeting, reassure your kids that they are loved and safe, no matter what.