In the wake of the economic destruction that one of the most devastating viruses to ever have on the global economy, many non-custodial parents and spousal support payers are wondering what to do if you lose your ability to pay maintenance and/or child support. While it is a mystery what the future holds for how courts will interpret the events that unfolded after the outbreak, one thing will always remain – A court order is a court order and should be complied with.
In some cases, spousal support and child support is paid voluntarily to prevent any retroactive arrears from being imposed on the paying party. If there is no court order, or a so-ordered stipulation mandating that you pay either maintenance or child support, then you are able to cease or reduce payments without notice and fear of being penalized. This only applies to voluntary payments that are not mandated by the court or by agreement.
However, in a majority of cases, spousal support, previously referred to as alimony and always referred to as maintenance, and child support are ordered by a court based on the financial circumstances of the parties. But the problem lies in those that are currently experiencing financial hardship and are court ordered to pay child support and/or maintenance.
Failing to comply with a court order can come at a heavy price. A failure to pay child support can result in a loss of your driver’s license, garnishment of your pay, seizure of your tax return, a lien being put on your property or even possible jail time. Further, based on your settlement agreement, you may not be eligible to receive certain benefits such as claiming a child on your taxes, if you are in arrears on child support. Failure to pay maintenance could be costly too, as you could be subject to being held in contempt of court which carries fines and/or jail time. The important thing to remember is that you would only be in breach of the order or agreement if you didn’t comply.
There are possible solutions to this issue. It would be in the best interest of the person paying to keep paying and to not unilaterally decide to not make payments. Some possible solutions to maintain the status quo and continue to make timely payments to prevent any penalties being issued against the payor are as follows. The first would be to take advantage of the benefits of the recent stimulus package to maintain an income that is comparable to your previous income. On March 25, 2020, the United States Senate approved a $2 trillion stimulus package aimed at helping the struggling economy during the COVID-19 outbreak. The package provides a 1-time payment directly to the people and offers additional monetary support for those who have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The second option is to bring your matter in front of a judge for a review of your circumstances. While temporary changes in income may not be enough to reduce your obligation, a long-standing change in income may be enough to reduce your obligations. One of the several reasons that you can petition for a modification of support is a decrease in income. When seeking to modify child support, the payor needs to establish both loss or reduced income through no fault of their own, as well as a meaningful effort to obtain comparable employment or income. It is important to document all attempts at finding comparable income as it will be necessary to prove your claim.
The most important step is to contact your lawyer and discuss with them what the best possible option or options are. Retain any documentation that could be used to show a decrease in your income as that proof will be necessary, and any documentation that shows your attempt to find employment or comparable income.
The COVID-19 outbreak has caused serious harm to the economy which has affected the lives of so many people. While you may still have an obligation to pay, there are options when deciding how to cope with making those payments.
If you’re interested in starting a divorce action, you should seek out an experienced divorce and family law attorney to guide you through the process. The divorce and family law attorneys at the Marnell Law Group have the knowledge and experience you need to guide you through all aspects of the divorce and family law proceedings including, but not limited to, issues of equitable distribution, child custody, child support, spousal support, orders of protection, abuse and neglect, CPS matters, and pre-nuptial agreements. Give us a call at (516) 542-9000 or send us a message on our contact page, and we’ll work with you through your divorce and family law matters.