Spousal and Child Support During the COVID-19 Economy

March 19, 2020

It seems that every day, we receive more and more discouraging news regarding the economy as a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The markets have suffered substantial losses and many restaurants, bars and other businesses across the country have closed. Employers have furloughed employees or reduced staffing in order to prevent the spread of this disease and manage the economic impact it has created. For many individuals and families, this has caused a profound effect on their bottom line.

But what if you or your ex-spouse or co-parent has spousal or child support obligations that can no longer be paid as a result of reduced income? Or what if you have lost your job and need additional support? The time to act may be now in order to preserve your legal rights, even while trying to work cooperatively for the benefit of everyone in the family.

Difficulty Paying Support

If you have a support obligation but have lost your source of income or are experiencing a reduction in income as a result of the current economic circumstances, you can seek relief from the Court by way of a motion to modify or terminate spousal or child support. Spousal support and child support are, however, very different from a modification perspective.

For spousal support, unless your divorce decree specifically states that the Court retains jurisdiction to modify the amount or duration of support, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to modify. The exception to this may be if paying support would be impossible.

For child support, the Court always retains jurisdiction to modify. Accordingly, if you have lost your employment or your income has been substantially reduced, the Court has the ability to review that information and determine whether the current child support order remains in the children’s best interest.

For both spousal support and child support modifications, the Court will need to see that there has been a substantial change of circumstances that was not contemplated at the time of the most recent support order.

Difficulty Receiving Support

By contrast, many already may have received word from the support payor that they can no longer pay the spousal or child support amount ordered, or that they can no longer help with private school, extracurricular expenses or uncovered medical expenses for the children.

In order to seek relief or to enforce the current support order, the person receiving support may seek to hold the support payor in contempt of court for failing or refusing to pay the amount of support ordered. Furthermore, if you are receiving support and have lost your job, you may need to seek additional support in order to help maintain the best interest of the children.

What to Do?

These are unprecedented times, and there is no perfect answer or single solution. For some, it may be prudent to seek to modify support with the Court as soon as possible in order to preserve your rights and the potential support modification date. Beginning the discussion with your former spouse and/or co-parent about modifying the support amounts (even on a temporary basis and/or an informal basis) is likely the most advisable first step to help navigate these difficult times. Ideally, this will allow all parties to participate in deciding how best to minimize the negative impact on the family’s bottom line.

If you or a family member are facing these issues, please contact John Ramsey at jdr@kjk.com or 216.736.7289 or Sarah Gabinet at sjg@kjk.com or 216.736.7206, or reach out to any of our Family Law professionals. We can help facilitate resolutions as well as prepare all necessary pleadings to protect your legal rights.


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