When faced with the unenviable position of being both unemployed, and ordered to pay child support, people often have questions about what type of relief they can receive from their child support obligations. The answer to that question (and so many others in the world of law) is: it depends. As with all issues discussed on this blog, the more thorough response that follows is not personalized, and it is advisable to talk to an attorney about your specific circumstances.
In general, if an obligor (paying parent) is unemployed at the time child support is set, the court will consider this in setting child support. Often, the court will order that the obligor pay a lower amount while unemployed, but may require that as soon as the obligor obtains employment, the child support amount be modified. In other circumstances (for example if the court believes that you are under employed or unemployed intentionally to reduce your child support amount), the court will not take your unemployment into consideration and will order child support to be paid at an amount based on your earning potential, not your actual income.
If the obligor become unemployed (or the income is otherwise significantly reduced) after child support is set, it is likely that the obligor will want to advise the court of this change and ask that the court give him or her some relief. This is done by petitioning the court to modify your order of child support. (It is often important to petition the court as soon as a change occurs; the change in child support may only date back to the date of the petition, not the day your income changed.) If the obligor is only unemployed for a month or so, and then returns to work earning a similar income, it may not be worth the time and resources to ask the court to change the support order; however, if the obligor anticipates having a harder time earning the same income or finding a job at all, it is more likely to be worth the time and resources to request a modification.