You are not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a lot of people and families in a tough financial spot. You may find yourself temporarily out of a job without knowing when you’ll be able to return. If you’re currently paying child-support or alimony, you may no longer have the means to pay your court ordered support. Here are 5 tips on how to navigate dealing with your support obligation during COVID-19:
1. Communicate with Your Former Spouse
Don’t just stop paying. Communicate with your former spouse and let him or her know you can’t meet your obligation. Your court order is not suspended because of COVID-19. You should try to work things out with your former spouse and work out a temporary agreement, temporarily reducing your obligation. This will avoid getting behind on child support or alimony and ultimately end up in court. This option will also save you time and costs (lawyers are expensive).
2. A Temporary Agreement Should be in Writing
If you work out an agreement with your former spouse to reduce your obligation, make sure it is in writing. This is to prevent issues down the road in the event you end up in front of the Judge. Your agreement should specify for how much the new amount should be and for how long the temporary agreement remains in effect, which will likely be when you resume working or find a new job. If your child support is paid through Child Support Enforcement, you may need the agreement approved by the Judge and get a court order reflecting the change. This would be necessary so the amount due can be updated with the enforcement office.
3. Pay as Much as You Can
You need to prioritize your support obligation after your necessities are met. You do not want to get too far behind on your support obligation and find yourself with a large arrearage when all this is over. So even if you can’t work out an agreement, make sure you do everything you can do continue paying as much as you can. Also keep in mind that your former spouse may also have found themselves in financial hardship because of the pandemic. A judge is less likely to find you in contempt of court if you’re doing the best you can.
4. File a Modification Request with the Court
If you and your former spouse cannot work out an agreement, then you should file a request with the court to temporarily modify your support obligation. Chances are you will not be able to obtain a permanent modification of your support obligation. To get a permanent modification, you will to prove that your current financial circumstances are permanent. That would be difficult to prove since the shelter-in-place order will not last forever and the economy will recover. If you proceed with this route, there are self-help forms available online. You can also hire a divorce lawyer to help you with the process.
It’s easier said than done, but try to remain calm and breathe. Take charge of the situation and don’t ignore it. Keep in mind that this too shall pass. And it’s ok to ask for help when you need it!