How Does Coronavirus Impact Your Alimony and Child Support Orders?
How Do I Pay My Alimony and Child Support Obligations if My Income is Significantly Reduced as a Result of the Coronavirus Pandemic?
The nationwide economic upheaval caused by the COVID-19 epidemic is significantly impacting families. Moms and dads have lost their jobs, their work hours have been significantly cut, they have not received expected sales commissions or their businesses have closed, necessitating a modification of support obligations, at least in the short term. These are extraordinary times.
Are the courts open to hear my case?
No. The family courts are only open for “Priority 1” matters, such as extreme situations of family violence and other emergency matters. They are not open to hear motions to modify support obligations.
Does that mean that I should just wait until the courts are open to take legal action?
No. You must file a Motion to Modify your alimony and/or child support obligations to have a change in your support order retroactive to your job loss/loss of income. Filing a Motion to Modify will allow you to argue to the Court that a reduction in your support obligation should be retroactive to the date you filed the modification motion. Depending upon when you were divorced, your Motion to Modify may be filed electronically or through the mail. A filing fee of $180 must be paid as well.
Will I be held in contempt if I don’t pay my full support obligation after losing my job?
That depends. If you can demonstrate to the Court that your income has been reduced significantly, thereby demonstrating a “substantial change in circumstances” reflecting an inability to pay your support obligations on your reduced income, the Court may agree to modify your support obligation retroactive to the date you filed your Motion to Modify and not adjudicate you in contempt. While a Court may consider your “earning capacity” in assessing your income available to pay support, in the current financial and economic circumstances this is not a likely factor in the Court’s determination of whether you willfully failed to pay your full support obligations as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The Court can and will consider your unemployment benefits in determining your total income available for support.
What if I lose my job and, as a result, my medical insurance benefits, and I also insure my children?
It is imperative that you make sure that your children remain insured even if you lose your job and are unable to pay your full support obligations. COBRA, while expensive, is always an option and your first COBRA payment will not be immediately due. Another option is for the children to go on your spouse’s medical insurance even if that conflicts with the support orders.
Should I communicate the details of my loss of income to my former spouse?
Yes. Your former spouse likely depends on your support to pay bills and other expenses. This is obviously not an easy conversation, but it will likely not be unexpected. Be clear with your spouse as to what your current financial circumstances are and what you can afford to pay going forward until your income is restored. Be prepared to provide your former spouse with proof of your reduced income and the extent of unemployment benefits.
Should I retain an attorney?
Yes, if financially possible. An attorney can draft and file the Motion to Modify, assist you with calculating a reduced support obligation using financial software reflecting the after-tax consequence of disposable income, help negotiate a settlement with your former spouse and, if necessary, represent you at court hearing on your modification application.