Support Payments and COVID-19 Job Loss

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As the pandemic rolls on into a third month, large companies like Enterprise as well as small businesses have begun furloughs, layoffs, and some firings. Such job changes have an immediate impact on those who have to pay support obligations and those who depend on receiving support payments.

If you have experienced a COVID-19 related job loss, please remember that your court order remains in full force and effect, and if you owe child support or maintenance, you still have an obligation to pay. If you want to avoid an arrearage, you need to be proactive. However, depending upon your situation, your remedies may be limited.

First, if you have been furloughed or laid off but anticipate you will return to work in one or two months, be open with your former spouse and communicate quickly and honestly the change you experienced and whether you can continue to meet your monthly obligations. If you cannot meet them fully, ask if the two of you can work out a plan to pay what you can now and to make up any difference once your employment resumes.

If your job loss has been permanent and involuntary (meaning you were fired because of the coronavirus as opposed to leaving employment by your choice), you have a decision to make. If you think it might be months before you can secure comparable employment, you need to discuss the situation with your former spouse and see if that spouse will agree to a temporary reduction with the difference to be made up later, even if it must be next year. If you do reach a voluntary agreement, be sure to put it in writing.  If you do not reach an agreement, you will need to consult with an attorney to examine your options. Generally, a motion to modify to reduce support requires a continuing and significant change in your employment ability. If you can secure comparable employment, you will not have shown a significant change. On the other hand, if you will not be able to secure comparable employment in the immediate future, you could have the basis for a modification to reduce support. While your attorney could file the motion to modify, it remains an open question when that matter will be heard by the courts because of the impact of the virus.

What if you find yourself on the other side of the equation – a former spouse who depends more than ever on support? What remedies do you have?

Again, you can file claims with the Family Support Division and see what garnishments of unemployment insurance or other possible income sources of your former spouse exist. And you should consult with an attorney to see if you need to bring a contempt action. However, given the limited access to the courts at the moment, when you could have your motion heard could be difficult.

Whether you pay or receive support, you will find that the worst reaction right now would be a dramatic and emotional response. We are simply too early into the economic aspects of the disruption caused by the virus, and courts will not rush to amend judgments based solely on the virus at this point, because in three months it is possible employment situations will significantly improve. It is not a time to try and take advantage of a job loss to reduce support, as the courts will not look kindly on such a move. Nor is it time to panic. It would be best if for the short term parties could agree to temporary changes in support with an agreement as to how any differences will be made up in the future. If not, you may have no choice but to consider legal action.

If you have questions about COVID-19 job loss and child support, contact us – we can help.

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