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Calculating support after a job loss

When a Washington couple gets a divorce, the process of dividing property and deciding on support can become even more difficult if one person loses a job. The circumstances in which the person lost the job may be significant in some cases. The legal system may view a layoff differently from a situation in which a person is fired.

First, if the person worked for a family member or friend, the layoff could be an effort to avoid paying support or to reduce the support amount paid. However, courts usually base support calculations on a person's salary history. Becoming deliberately underemployed will generally not succeed as part of an effort to avoid paying support. The couple might make an agreement that the support-paying party will resume higher payments after getting a new job. If the unemployed person is the spouse who earns less, the payer might be required to pay extra until the recipient finds a new job. In some cases, the person's severance package might help supplement payment to a lower-earning spouse.

The person who becomes unemployed may want to keep records to demonstrate to the court a good faith effort to get a job. For example, the person might want to document resumes sent and interviews.

In Washington, a community property state, a lower-earning spouse is still usually entitled to half of the shared assets in a divorce if there is no prenuptial agreement. A couple may reach an agreement in which the lower-earning spouse takes a larger share of the assets in exchange for a smaller support payment. However, child support is separate from spousal support and would not be reduced in this way since it is intended for the benefit of the child. A person who cannot keep up support payments because of unemployment may want to seek a modification.

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