By Mary Ellen Flynn, Esq., 301.563.6685
COVID-19 has undoubtedly put a financial strain on many families and individuals across the country. Many individuals have suffered job loss while trying to maintain their child support obligations to their former spouse. Making the situation worse, inundated courts are rescheduling thousands of hearings and operating on a limited and remote capacity.
This blog addresses these issues, and hopefully answers some questions related to your child support obligations during these unprecedented times.
Continue Making Your Monthly Payments in Full
If you are one of the 22 million Americans unemployed due to this pandemic, continue to pay your child support in-full until you can speak with the other parent about modifying the amount. If you and the other parent can’t have a productive conversation, continue making your payments in-full until speaking with an attorney and filing a petition in court to modify your child support payments. The court’s lack of immediate availability should not deter you from filing a petition to modify your child support payment, especially if it’s impossible to communicate with the other parent.
Modifying Your Child Support Obligation Under a Marital Settlement Agreement or Other Agreement
If your child support obligations are enforceable under a marital settlement agreement or temporary agreement, and there is no Court Order in place or judgment of Absolute divorce, reach out to the other parent and discuss a temporary payment reduction. When negotiating with the other parent, understand that if they too have lost their job or is experiencing a decrease in income, the situation becomes more complicated. If this is the case, it’s important to factor in this issue when negotiating a different amount of temporary child support. If you two ultimately agree to a different amount, make sure the terms of the agreement are in writing.
Modifying Your Child Support Order
If your child support obligations are stated in a Court Order, or if you and your former spouse obtained a judgment of absolute divorce that has incorporated a marital settlement agreement, modification becomes a bit more complicated. However, the good news is that, in Maryland, Child Support is always modifiable since it is calculated based on your ability to pay. If you have recently lost your job due to COVID-19, you may be able to modify your child support order.
The first step is to file a petition to modify the current child support order. It’s important to file the petition to modify child support as soon as possible after experiencing a change in income.
In any petition submitted to the Court, make sure to preserve your right to have the new child support order relate back to when you filed for the modification; given that many courts are processing petitions slower than normal, it may be some time before the Court schedules a hearing for your case. Once the court has scheduled a hearing to determine child support, you must be able to prove to the Court a material change in circumstances. Consult with an attorney about how to best present your material changes.
Another option is, after filing your petition, instead of waiting on the court to schedule a hearing, you can speak with your former spouse about negotiating a temporary agreement until you return to earning the same income as you were before.
If able to agree, you and your former spouse can enter a Consent Order and submit it to the Court and there won’t be any need to wait for your hearing date.
Unemployment Compensation & How It Affects Your Child Support Obligation
Unemployment claims and benefits received from those claims constitute income when determining child support. Since you must prove a material change in circumstances to modify your child support payment, your unemployment compensation will not justify this material change if it is roughly the same amount as your former income. Therefore, if your unemployment compensation equals, or is close to what you were making, you should not attempt to modify your child support payment.
However, keep in mind that the stimulus check you receive under the CARES act will likely not affect the child support amount by much since it was a one-time payment.
If you have experienced job loss during this pandemic and you are unable to make your monthly child support payments, reach out to our office to set up a consultation with one of our attorneys.
Andalman & Flynn, P.C. serves clients throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia, offering compassionate, quality service and results-driven representation across a broad range of legal areas. With a concentration on disability benefits law and family law, the firm focuses on cases that impact the rights of everyone, and they are there for clients when responsive legal help is most critical. For more information about Andalman & Flynn, please visit our website or call 301.563.6685.