Has COVID-19 Made it Hard to Pay Child Support?

In mid-March, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency due to the novel coronavirus. In a statement, President Trump said:

“NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States, by the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including sections 201 and 301 of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601 et seq.) and consistent with section 1135 of the Social Security Act (SSA), as amended (42 U.S.C. 1320b-5), do hereby find and proclaim that the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States constitutes a national emergency, beginning March 1, 2020.

Since COVID-19 was identified as a national emergency, the State of California has not wasted time; it took swift action to protect the health and safety of its residents. Stay-at-home orders were put in place, schools were shut down, and people were directed to stay home, avoid people outside their household, wash hands with soap and water frequently, cover their coughs and sneezes with a tissue, clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, maintain a social distance of six feet when outside the home, and wear a cloth face covering when they go outside.

People were also directed to NOT:

  • Shake hands
  • Touch their faces
  • Leave the house EXCEPT for essential activities
  • Stockpile masks and gloves
  • See their doctor unless they call ahead of time

As the state enforces stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of the coronavirus, it’s affecting businesses large and small. And businesses in certain industries are taking a harder hit than others. Some of the industries hit the hardest include travel, tourism, manufacturing, dining, the culinary arts, salon services, gyms, health clubs, airlines, and retail. As a result of mass business shutdowns, millions of Americans lost their jobs, which is affecting everything from spending to mortgages, to auto loans, to child support.

If you lost your job because of COVID-19 or if you’re a small business owner whose business has been impacted by the pandemic and now you can’t pay child support, you may be wondering if the government might give you a break. After all, a lot of people are getting breaks from mortgage lenders, auto loan companies, and credit card issuers.

Will Paying Parents Get Relief?

While debtors may have some of their monthly bills suspended by lenders to help them through the pandemic, that is not the case with child support. The local child support agency will not put child support payments on hold until paying parents to get back to work. That’s because lawmakers believe child support is too important to suspend payments. As such, a parent cannot stop paying child support because they lose their jobs, become disabled, mentally ill, incarcerated, or because the nation is experiencing a health crisis like the coronavirus.

Let’s say you lost your job because of COVID-19 or you’re a small business owner and the company’s profits came to a grinding halt and now you can’t afford child support. What’s going to happen to you? If you skip child support payments, the local child support agency will catch on and it can take all kinds of enforcement actions against you, such as:

  • Driver license suspension
  • Professional license suspension
  • Recreational license suspension
  • Denial of U.S. passport
  • Bank account seizure
  • Withholding of economic stimulus check
  • Real estate liens
  • Negative credit reporting
  • Wage garnishment

You see, both parents are legally required to provide for their children’s financial needs, regardless of their employment situation. If your child was living with you and you lost your job, you wouldn’t suddenly stop feeding them or keeping a roof over their head. You’d make sure your child’s basic needs were met regardless of your financial circumstances. Well, it’s the same with child support; you’re expected to continue paying it no matter what.

“Not paying child support can have very serious consequences. If the court finds that someone has the ability to pay support but is willfully not paying it, the court can decide that the person ordered to pay support is “in contempt of court.” Being in contempt of court can be very serious because it can result in jail time. This enforcement tool is generally used only when all others have failed,” according to the California Courts.

What Solution Do You Have?

If you can’t afford your monthly child support obligation, our advice is to immediately contact our firm to explore asking the court for a downward modification. It’s important to remember that child support does NOT change until a court says it does. So, if you skip payments, it will continue accruing at the existing monthly amount and there is no way for the court to go back and reduce what you owe or change it from the date you lost your job.

Since the local child support agency has many tools in its toolbox for enforcing a child support order, you want to be proactive and take immediate action to modify your support obligation. If you do nothing and stop paying, the funds in your bank account can be taken (including joint accounts), your driver’s license can be suspended, you can be denied a U.S. passport, your tax refund and stimulus check can be taken, and so on. So, it’s important to act fast before any of these negative things happen to you.

To learn more about modifying a child support order, we invite you to contact Claery & Hammond, LLP for a free case evaluation.