How Will COVID-19 Affect Court-Ordered Support Payments?
With many businesses shutting down due to COVID-19, unemployment numbers in the U.S. increased by over 14 million between February and May. If you are one of the many people struggling financially, the idea of paying high child support or alimony during this time probably seems concerning. Fortunately, many divorce courts are taking COVID-19 into account as they calculate new support amounts.
Understanding How Child and Spouse Support Are Usually Calculated
To learn more about how COVID-19 is changing support amounts, it’s helpful to know how the process works in the first place. Child support is meant to ensure that all the financial needs of a child are met. If you do not have full custody of the child, you may have to pay support to the primary custodial guardian. The judge will usually calculate your child support based on both parents’ incomes and the amount of time each parent has custody. This support is meant to help with living expenses, educational expenses, and other necessities.
Spousal support is a little more complicated than child support. Also called alimony, these payments are meant to ensure one spouse does not end up impoverished after sacrificing their time or career to focus on the marriage. It is left almost entirely up to the discretion of the court. There are several factors considered, including:
- Both parties’ incomes and assets
- Length of the marriage
- Standard of living established during the marriage
- Division of parental responsibilities during the marriage
- Both parties’ educational skills and earning capacity
- Whether a spouse has any health conditions
- Anything else the court deems relevant
Using COVID-19 to Get Lower Support Amounts in Your Divorce
If you are currently in the middle of a divorce, COVID-19 may play a huge role in how the judge chooses to award child support and spousal support. When calculating child support, the main factor a judge looks at is your current income. If the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a decline in income, you can most likely expect lower child support amounts.
COVID-19 may also lower alimony payments, but that is not quite as likely. Your divorce lawyer may be able to argue that you cannot be expected to maintain your ex in the accustomed style due to new financial hardship. However, since so many factors affect alimony, a judge may decide your spouse needs more alimony in the post-pandemic world because of financial challenges. For example, if your spouse quit their job to provide childcare, they may be able to argue that COVID-19 will make it harder for them to find a new job. Unless you can show that your finances are incapable of providing spousal support, you should not assume COVID-19 will result in lower alimony payments.
Adjusting Current Child or Spousal Support Orders
Things are a little different if you already have an existing child or spousal support order. New Jersey courts are not just automatically lowering support obligations because times are hard for everyone. Instead, they are sticking to the same general rules about adjusting existing support orders. If your circumstances change suddenly, you or your ex can request that the court change the amount of money being paid. This lets those in tight financial circumstances get some relief, but it does not allow those who are doing just fine to skip out on their responsibilities. There are many reasons the court may agree to let you lower child or spousal support during the pandemic. These include:
- Lost jobs
- Reduced numbers of hours
- Increased childcare and homeschooling expectations
- Expensive medical bills
- One parent has taken on more custodial responsibilities
- Inability to work due to lack of childcare
Keep in mind that you need to be prepared to show how these changes will be long-lasting, unanticipated, and substantial. New Jersey will usually not let you adjust your support if your circumstances are temporary. Typically, you’ll also need to show the court that the change in your situation is truly beyond your control. Even though COVID-19 is putting many families under financial stress, courts tend to be wary of people using the virus as an excuse to get out of payment. You may need to prove that you have tried and failed to get a new job or explain how you could not find any free childcare.
How to File for a Modification on Your Support Order
As you can see, it is possible to get a court to consider a lower support amount. However, you’ll need to carefully follow the legal process if you want to lower your child support during the coronavirus pandemic. If you think the virus justifies a change to the amount of child or spousal support you currently pay, you need to follow these steps:
- Gather evidence of changes, such as medical bills or an employment termination notice.
- Talk to a family and divorce lawyer about your desire to request lower payments.
- File a motion with the court requesting modification of your support order.
- Submit affidavits, financial worksheets, and other documents that support your claim of changed circumstances.
- Serve the other parent with a copy of the court petition and return the proof of service to the court.
- Wait to see if your motion is summarily dismissed or if you are given a court date.
- Appear before the judge to present your case.
What to Do If You Cannot Afford to Pay Right Now
Even during national emergencies like the COVID pandemic, you cannot just quit paying support because you can no longer afford it. Doing so could result in consequences like garnished wages, lowered credit scores, and even felony charges. If at all possible, you should pay support, but that is not always an option during these difficult times. Here are some things you can do if you are behind on COVID-19 child support and do not have the funds to pay it.
- Call your local Office of Child Support Enforcement to let them know you are currently working to resolve the child support issue. This can get you some time to file a petition to lower the amount.
- If you’re on good terms with your ex, talk to them and be honest about the problem. They can’t legally waive your support responsibilities, but they may agree to work out a temporary financial arrangement with you.
- Pay as much as you can, even if it’s not the full amount. This shows you are trying your best, which will help your case in court.
- Check to see if you’re eligible for government grants designed to help parents care for children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you cannot pay support due to COVID, you need to petition to lower your payments as soon as possible. The courts are very busy dealing with a backlog of cases, so you should go ahead and get yourself on their roster as quickly as possible. If you are looking to settle child or spousal support payments during COVID-19, a good divorce lawyer can help. At the Law Office of Kelly Berton Rocco in Hackensack, our experienced team can provide plenty of helpful advice. Contact us today at 201-343-0078 to find out more.