Checkbook with moneyThis is the next post in my series on how economic slowdowns can impact child custody cases in Las Vegas, Nevada. My previous article discussed how a change in a parent’s work hours can result in a modified custody or visitation order. Upon making the appropriate Motion, the Clark County Family Court will review the “change in circumstances,” and determine if a new custody arrangement is warranted. If a revised visitation schedule is in the best interests of the child, the Court will issue a modified Order. If your work schedule has changed and you feel it may impact your custody arrangement, it is important to speak to an attorney. In this article, I will discuss the potential need for a parent to prove that he or she is not “underemployed” for purposes of child support obligations. Please contact my office today to speak to a lawyer if you need assistance.

Because child support is income-based, a change in wages may result in a reduced child support obligation. The parent seeking the reduction, however, may be required to prove to the Court that he or she is not “underemployed.” Under Nevada law, a person is underemployed when he or she chooses to earn a wage that is less than commensurate with their skill level. The law requires parents to support their children. Being voluntarily underemployed is often a tactic used by those who want to thwart the general rule and pay as little support as possible.

If a Court decides a parent is underemployed, the Court will use that parent’s potential earnings as the basis for support instead of their actual lower earnings. For example, suppose a successfully employed attorney is ordered to pay child support. Six months later, the same attorney is working at a local grocery store and is seeking to modify the order on grounds that his income has drastically changed. If found to be underemployed after reviewing the specific facts, the Court may not grant the modification and would continue to base the support on the parent’s potential salary as an attorney.

Under normal economic conditions, the underemployment analysis is fairly straightforward. The Court will evaluate several factors, such as the person’s reasons for changing employment, education level, work experience, health issues and attempts to find similar employment. Leaving a profession because it results in extreme stress or health concerns, for example, may be viewed as a valid reason for a career shift. On the other hand, quitting a job and failing to seek alternative employment without any documented reason could be viewed as voluntary underemployment.

For obvious reasons, this analysis becomes slightly different during a recession. Economic downturns often result in layoffs and the tightening of job markets. Workers may find themselves unemployed or willing to take on jobs for which they may be overqualified, simply to make ends meet. In these circumstances, a Court will consider heavily whether the change in employment was voluntary or occurred due to the economic environment. Evidence about the employment industry and efforts to find work similar to his or her prior job will be important factors. Consider our attorney example. Suppose his law firm closed and he was laid off. Now suppose that no other law firms in the city serve the specific type of clients he was trained to represent. If he is actively training for a new practice area and works at the grocery store in the meantime, the Court may find that he is not underemployed and grant his modification request. In other words, if one is earning less than their normal wage, while actively trying to increase their income, then the Court would be less likely to rule that such an individual is “underemployed.” As always, each case will differ based on the specific facts of the situation.

If you are involved in a case where underemployment is an issue, contact my office today to speak with an experienced Las Vegas child custody attorney. Having an experienced domestic relations lawyer involved will help guide you through this complicated process. I am dedicated to representing my clients and providing the highest level of service. Please contact my office today to schedule an initial consultation.