What to do when facts change in your family law case, part 2: Job and income changes

December 10, 2013

Family law gavel(Editor’s note:  Family law cases may be some of the most fact-sensitive of all; even minor changes in circumstances can have profound effects on the outcome of the case.  So what do you do when there is a change in the facts of your family law case?  We’ll answer that question in a series of posts on the topic.)

Last week’s installment in this series discussed the potential effects of changes to a party’s living situation, and how you should deal with them.  As promised, this week will cover the potential impact of changes in one or both of the parents’ work circumstances.

Although such a change can take a variety of forms, the most obvious impact on the family law case will very likely be to child support.  However, since the vast majority of jurisdictions determine child support figures by calculators based on statutes, I won’t be covering this element of the case in any significant detail.

But the impact of a parent’s job change can have a much bigger impact on the case outside of child support.  Understanding how best to deal with these changes depends in large part on which type of change to a parent’s job you are dealing with in your case.

The first type of this type of change is a change in the parent’s income, either upward or downward.  This can occur because of the parent taking a new job, seeing a reduction in hours at a current job, or receiving a pay increase or a promotion.  A parent’s income may also change because of job loss, but the implications of this potential change are extensive enough to warrant a separate discussion.

Again, the most apparent impact of such a change in income is likely to child support calculations.  Changes in child support aside, however, a parent’s increase or decrease in income can still greatly affect the case in more subtle ways.

A decrease in a parent’s income can mean that he or she is unable to maintain his or her current lifestyle – which could also have an impact on the children’s time with that parent.  Such decreases in income may also lead to that parent’s having to relocate to a smaller residence (refer to previous post for more on this change).

The most important advice to give to your client should he or she experience such an income decrease is to attempt to maintain as much normalcy as possible in regards to the children.  As stated in the previous installment, judges are very hesitant to punish parents for their financial circumstances, but they have no qualms with punishing a parent who, in the face of changing life circumstances, fails to prioritize the needs of the children ahead of his or her own.

In addition to changes in income, the schedule of a parent’s job may change.

Since parenting time schedules are often based around the parents’ work schedules to begin with, this type of change may often have a profound impact on the parenting time schedule.

Minor alterations, such as the shifting of the beginning or ending of a parent’s workday by an hour or two, likely won’t have a major effect on the parenting time schedule.  If, however, a parent begins working a night shift on a regular basis when the parenting schedule was based on that parenting working during the day, the schedule is going to need some updating.

The best advice to give to your client in such circumstances is that the interests of the children are the most important thing in the case.  This means that the children’s lives aren’t to be molded around the parent’s schedule; the parent’s schedule is molded around what works best for the children.

For example, if your client switches from a day shift to a night shift, the children’s schedule should not necessarily be transformed to ensure that your client maintains all of his or her parenting time.  Instead, your client may be forced to work harder to spend time with the children, since they will still be on a daytime schedule.

That does not mean, however, that the parenting time schedule itself does not change to accommodate the change in work hours; it just means that the children would not be expected to begin their time with that parent when he or she gets done with his shift at 4:30 a.m.

The final type of change in a parent’s job is a job loss.

Hopefully, this is only temporary; but in this economy, “temporary” may mean six months to a year (or more).

No job means no (or greatly reduced) income, which, as discussed earlier, means changes to the child support calculation.  But it can also lead to changes in living arrangements (also discussed above) and decreases in budgets for things such as meals and clothing.  The types of activities that a parent can afford may also be greatly diminished by loss of income.

On the other hand, a job loss – especially a temporary one – can allow for the parent to spend even more time with the children.  Your client’s children will only be at their current ages once, and your client will (hopefully) never regret the time that he or she was able to spend with the children – even if it was because of being involuntarily forced to leave his or her employment.

It’s important to try to find the positives for your client in his or her difficult situation, and being able to spend more quality time with his or her children is certainly such a “positive.”

The next post in this series will cover the potential impact of a parent’s remarriage.