Do these statements sound familiar?
“I don't have the money to meet my monthly child support and/or alimony obligations, what do I do?”
“Am I facing the possibility of jail time for non-payment?”
“My ex just informed me that he/she lost his/her job and won't be making their child support and/or alimony payment this month, what do I do?”
With the coronavirus causing businesses to shut down, social distancing, and quarantines across the country, a massive jump in unemployment has occurred. While a stimulus package and the CARES Act helped stave off the worst financial losses over the past several months, permanent relief and a return to normalcy is not as quickly coming as most had hoped. Now, with evictions looming and further stimulus packages not a sure thing, an increasing demand for reductions in child support and alimony orders across the country have risen. Depending on the extent of your financial loss and/or change in your financial resources or employment status, a modification may be possible.
Child support is eligible for a review every few years, or when there is a material change in circumstances such as a significant change in the needs of the child or in the paying parent's income. This occurs after a petition is filed requesting that the existing agreement be reduced / increased. With the filing, you will need to describe the change that is occurred and have any needed documentation justifying the request.
How to Prove Your COVID-19 Change in Circumstance and Lower Child Support Obligation
Because the pandemic’s effects on the economy are so well-known, convincing a judge that the virus has caused a change in your circumstance may be easier than usual. Often, people requesting that their child support payments be lowered must supply a lot of evidence and are usually met with suspicion. However, if the virus caused your job or business loss, or reduced your income, the judge may not have much trouble believing you.
That being said there are some things you should start doing right away to place yourself in the best position possible to prove your change in circumstance and lower your child support to the court after the crisis has passed:
Communicate: This is an unprecedented time in our lives, and everyone is navigating this new reality day by day. Communicate with your ex as soon as you learn of your job / business loss so he/she knows not to rely on that money coming in while he/she makes his/her own plans for dealing with this national crisis. Document your communications and try to reach a temporary alternate agreement with regards to payments while you look for new employment.
Make a Good Faith Effort: You are much less likely to be penalized for not making payments if you can show that you made a good faith effort to ensure the other party was notified right away so they could make plans and that you did everything in your power to make the payments. If you can pay something towards your obligation, do it. The Courts will consider whether a good faith attempt was made to pay a portion of your obligation and will look at your finances to determine if you had the ability to do so. While you may not have the ability to pay 100% because your income has decreased or you have lost your job, an effort to pay something during these times will likely not go unnoticed by the court and will definitely work in your favor.
Be Proactive: Normally when an individual loses their job or has a decrease in income the Court will request proof that the person is actively looking for alternate means of employment / income. While a lot of people may not be hiring at this time, do your best to put your resume out there and apply for jobs (and document these efforts) to show the court you did everything in your power to meet your obligation.
If your spouse has stopped making payments and claims to have lost his/her source of income, it is in the best interest of all parties to try to work out an agreement. If you suspect that they have not fully lost income, are receiving payments from an undocumented source or unemployment (which depending on the state, can be garnished for child support or alimony payments), then it is worth doing some research as these are serious allegations. Talking it over with the ex-spouse first is always a good idea and if your suspicions linger, you should hire a professional to investigate the situation.This is an unmatched time in the world economy, but you do have options. Looking into an investigative and/or legal team to help you out can reduce your headache and financial burden going forward. There are a lot of uncertainties when it comes to the future, but your child support/alimony payments/income does not need to be one of them.