COVID-19 Economic Fallout Leads to New Support Modifications
According to the New York Post, divorce rates in the United States increased by 34% between March and June 2020. Nearly 20% of the people who petitioned the court for a divorce had been married for five months or less, which is nearly double the usual divorce filing rate for newlyweds. For these individuals as well as the people who have already been divorced, the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic could result in significant modifications to their alimony or child support payments.
Immediate Job Losses From COVID-19 Closures
Many state governors, including New Jersey’s Phil Murphy, ordered business shutdowns to slow the spread of COVID-19 this past spring. This caused millions of job losses around the United States and hundreds of thousands in New Jersey. Unemployment soared to about 18%. While some businesses have reopened as of early autumn, not all have. In New Jersey, adult day care centers, shared-space tutoring facilities and large event venues remain closed. For people who worked at these places, they’re still without a paycheck.
Who Remains Vulnerable to Job Losses?
People who didn’t already lose their jobs as a result of COVID-19 are still at risk. There could be a second wave of infections this winter. The Brookings Institute explains that people of color, young people and people without a college degree have an increased risk of losing their jobs any time during this pandemic. People aren’t confident about going back to restaurants or large events, so there’s less demand for many services. Employers may also choose to automate some of those job functions. Some of the industries with the most job losses and highest risk for ongoing job losses are:
- Personal care services
- Travel and tourism
- Restaurants and bars
- Event planning
When a Support Payer Loses Their Job
When a person is ordered to pay alimony or child support, the amount they owe is calculated by the court. Their payments are based on their income, including wages, tips and bonuses. For example, a bartender who is ordered to pay alimony may have their amount calculated based on their hourly wage and estimated tips. A salesperson at an auto dealership may have their support payments calculated with wages and bonuses. If you have been furloughed or laid off or had hours cut, you won’t be able to pay the amount ordered by the court. Some consequences of not meeting your support obligations include:
- Court fines
- Wage garnishment
- Jail time or probation
Recipients May Need More Support
The economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic has also affected those who receive spousal or child support payments. If you get these payments and have lost your job or had your wages cut, your lower income or unemployment checks combined with your support payments might not be enough for you to live. Perhaps you and your ex-spouse have lost wages because of COVID-19 job losses. In such a case, you may both be requesting a modification of support. That’s why it’s important to have a divorce lawyer listen to your situation and explain your rights. You may need more spousal or child support for many reasons, such as:
- Needing to hire a private nanny because your day care closed
- Hiring a private tutor because services at school were cut
- Being able to afford increased grocery expenses
- Higher medical bills related to COVID-19 testing or treatment
Why Official Support Modifications Are Important
If you or your ex-spouse decides to just stop making support payments or pay less than what the court ordered, that’s a violation of the law. The court takes this seriously. Instead of taking matters into your own hands, going the legal route and requesting a modification of support is always the wiser decision. At the Law Office of Kelly Berton Rocco, our divorce lawyer offers a 30-minute consultation to both payers and recipients of support payments. Some reasons to work with our lawyer for a support modification include:
- Following the law
- Maintaining acceptable relationships with your ex-spouse or children
- Getting documentation for your employer and taxes
Temporary Support Modifications
If you’re furloughed or laid off, you may consider requesting a temporary support modification to lower the amount you have to pay for child support or alimony. The court usually requires you to ask for a specific duration of time. However, you might not know the exact date that you’ll be able to go back to work and earn the same amount of money that you earned before the pandemic. Here are some reasons to request a temporary reduction in your support payments.
- Had COVID-19 and missed work
- Had to take a pay cut
- Earning less in tips
- Employer cut bonuses
If you’re a support recipient, you might need to request a temporary increase in support payments. This could be the case if you’ve lost your own job, you had your wages or hours cut or your expenses have gone up. These are some reasons you may want a temporary modification to increase the amount of your support payments:
- You can’t work because you or a household member got COVID-19.
- Your expenses have gone up because of the pandemic.
- You can’t work due to quarantine measures.
Types of Temporary Support Modifications
In New Jersey, alimony and child support can be modified any time after divorce if one of the ex-spouses has a significant financial change. Any job loss, lower wage or other type of income reduction qualifies. There are a few types of temporary support modifications you can ask the court to award. These are:
- Specific end date
- Restoration of your finances
If you ask for a specific end date for the temporary support modification, your payments will resume at their former amounts on that date. An event-related end date could be upon your hiring at a new job or upon your furlough or quarantine ending. You might also request special circumstances, such as the restoration of your bonus or full work hours as the event that precipitates a return to the full payments.
If you’re a support recipient, you can also request similar circumstances. You might ask for a temporary increase until your work hours are fully restored or until you’re able to return to work after recovering from COVID-19 or caring for your child with COVID-19.
Permanent Support Modification Requests
Our divorce lawyer may also help you with a request for a permanent modification of support payments. If you’re the payer, you may need a permanent change if you’ve become disabled due to infection from COVID-19. You might not be able to pay child support or alimony if you can no longer work.
Those who receive child support or alimony payments can also request a permanent modification of support. For example, if you caught COVID-19 and suffered from severe complications, such as a stroke, you may require extensive rehab, a modification to your home and in-home health care services. If you’re no longer able to work, you may need more alimony support. Some other reasons you might need a permanent support modification include the following:
- Your employer permanently closed.
- You lost your home.
- You have a long-term disability from COVID-19 infection.
- You have a significant increase in cost of living.
Our divorce lawyer offers consultations and legal services to help clients get modifications for alimony or child support. To get additional details or to schedule an appointment at our Hackensack office, call us at (201) 343-0078, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org today.