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Parents have an obligation to support their children to the best of their ability. Once a child support order is established, paying support becomes a legal requirement that the courts can enforce through civil and criminal penalties.

So, what happens if you have no income? Do you still have to pay support?

Generally, yes. Whether you anticipate a short layoff or a longer period of unemployment, here's what you need to understand.

Your lack of income doesn't negate your obligation to pay support

No matter what the circumstances, an existing court order for support has to be followed. If you are unable to pay, the debt will start to accrue, and you will go into arrears.

Even if you otherwise notify the court that you are not working, there still has to be a formal hearing and a change in the order for the collection efforts to halt.

Even a change in the order may not eliminate your obligation

For the most part, the court is usually willing to adjust a child support obligation downward when a parent's income has been involuntarily reduced. However, the court will make inquiries to find out how you are surviving -- and there is very little in the way of income that the court can't attach.

If you are receiving any sort of benefits, including disability insurance payments, Social Security or unemployment, you are still likely to have to pay some amount of support, no matter how nominal.

If you truly have no income at all and are subsisting on charity, the court may choose to suspend your payments for a time -- although you will likely be given an order to seek appropriate employment based on your abilities and skills.

Post-decree child support modifications are never automatic, no matter what the circumstances. If your income has been interrupted and you owe support, an attorney can help you petition the court for the appropriate modifications. Don't neglect this step, because the penalties for falling behind on your support can be difficult to overcome.

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