COVID-19 And Your Family Law Support Obligations

In a family law matter it is very common for one party to owe spousal support or child support to another party. That financial obligation can be ordered by the Court or can be in the form of a voluntary mutual agreement. Generally, in both instances, the financial support was calculated based on one party’s need and the other parties’ financial ability to pay. Due to COVID-19, a large number of Americans have been furloughed, laid off, or received salary cuts. As one faces this financial hardship, it is a great time to think about modifying your financial obligation, if you can no longer afford your financial support obligation. This is especially important since there are consequences if one fails to pay their support obligations. If you owe a financial support obligation and fail to pay according to the terms of your Order or Agreement, then you could be in contempt of Court.

What should I do if I can no long afford my financial support obligation?

First, it is always possible to voluntarily modify your payments if the other party is in agreement. This can be accomplished by entering into a Consent Order or into an amendment to an Agreement. The voluntary modification can come in a variety of forms. For example, one could reduce their monthly obligation in perpetuity or reduce the monthly obligation by spreading the payment out over a longer period of time. Another option would be to put a pause on the payment until one is able to continue making the payments in full (six months to one year are typical periods). The payment term will then be extended out based on how long the pause lasted. Voluntary modification allows for more creative solutions when addressing modification of financial support obligations.

What if the other spouse does agree to the voluntary modification?

If the opposing party is not willing to come to an agreement, then another option is to file a motion in court to modify your support payment. To modify child support, one must show that three years have passed since the last Order, or a 15% change in income, or by showing that a substantial change in circumstances has occurred since the date the Order was entered. The modification of the child support order can address the amount, scope and duration of the modified child support obligation. An obligation of post-separation support or alimony can be modified at any time. To modify one must file a motion and show a substantial change in circumstances. For modification of child support and spousal support, the Court has the authority to modify your obligation back to the date of filing. In addition, the burden is on the person filing the motion to show that a substantial change of circumstances has occurred. It must be a substantial change of circumstances from when the Order was entered to the date the modification was requested.  Although many different situations can be considered, some common examples of a “substantial change of circumstances” are (1) a loss or change in employment or income by either parent, and (2) a change in the custody or visitation for one or more of the children. If you are not able to continue paying your financial support obligations, then contact a family law attorney at Skufca Law at 704-376-3030 to discuss your options for modification.