Child Support Payments During the COVID-19 Outbreak
The coronavirus crisis has dealt a devastating blow not only to public health but also to the financial security of many Americans. Unemployment has soared, and many employees who have kept their jobs face steep pay cuts. Parents who need to pay child support after a divorce or the end of a relationship may struggle to keep up with their payments. Fortunately, state and local governments have taken steps to alleviate other types of financial burdens. For example, many states, counties, and cities have suspended evictions based on unpaid rent, while certain areas have imposed moratoriums on foreclosures. Financial institutions have responded to the COVID-19 emergency by offering flexible payment plans and other forms of relief. Funds that otherwise might be needed to pay rent, mortgage payments, and other debts thus may be diverted to pay child support.
Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the federal government provided a one-time stimulus payment of up to $1,200 to qualifying taxpayers. About 80 percent of Americans were eligible to receive this payment. If they owed child support, though, it likely was intercepted or reduced to cover the amount that they owe. Some parents may wonder whether this payment will increase their income for child support purposes. This is unlikely because the check provides only a small, temporary boost to a parent’s income.
Modifications to Child Support Payments
If a parent cannot keep paying child support due to financial pressures caused by the COVID-19 outbreak, they should not simply stop paying and assume that payments will be waived. Failing to pay child support can lead to severe repercussions. A judge can find a parent in contempt of court based on missed payments. A parent may face sanctions such as the loss of a driver’s license, passport restrictions, and even jail time in extreme cases. Child support debt cannot be discharged in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, so it can affect your finances for a long time.
Rather than stopping payments, therefore, a parent should try to work out an agreement with the recipient of the support. If the parents can agree on a temporary modification, they can submit the agreement to a court for approval. It will become an enforceable order if the court approves it. If the parents cannot reach an agreement, the parent paying support can ask a court to order a temporary modification. They would need to provide proof of the reduction in their income, as well as proof that they are searching for a job. A judge will review a parent’s financial situation in detail, including their income, assets, expenses, and debts, before deciding whether a modification is warranted.
Many family courts across the U.S. are closed or limited to emergency proceedings during the coronavirus outbreak. You should contact the local family court or visit its website to find out about any restrictions that may affect the process of pursuing a modification. The logistics of filing a motion for a modification may have changed. Hearings may be conducted through video conferences or over the phone. Unfortunately, if the court is closed or will not hear modification cases during this time, a parent must wait until the court reopens.
Parents who are facing a financial emergency may want to seek help from a child support agency in their state. While the offices of these agencies have closed due to the coronavirus, case workers usually remain available to assist parents remotely. They can help a parent negotiate with the parent receiving child support, and they can assist with filing any legal documents that may be needed.