If you have lost your job or your finances have been negatively hit by COVID-19, you may have a case for modifying your child support obligations. In today’s blog, we discuss ways you may file for modified child support obligations as a result of the circumstances brought on by the pandemic.
Factors Impacting Child Support Obligations
This pandemic has severely impacted the earning ability and work opportunities of citizens throughout the country. So, parents may be especially worried about providing financial support to their children during this time. If you’ve suffered financial losses due to COVID-19, see if you qualify for financial assistance, such as unemployment benefits or deferred rent or mortgage payments. These modifications could help with your child support obligations. For instance, if you qualify for unemployment insurance benefits, inform the unemployment office know about your child support order so they may deduct the child support payments from your unemployment wages.
Note that if you can’t afford child support, do not simply stop making payments. Doing so will accrue arrears and could be subject to contempt of court, jail time, and other enforcement actions. In the meantime, you must pay until a judge changes your child support order. Generally, courts will modify child support if there has been a material change of circumstances since the prior order, such as the financial impact of COVID-19.
Modifying Child Support in COVID-19
Many factors influence a child support calculation. If the supported parent requests an increase in support, they will have to show that since the initial order, a change in circumstances occurred, such as a change in the child’s needs. For example, as a result of school closures, parents might be required to establish new routines to assist their children with schoolwork, thus warranting additional support. Or, if the custodial parent has lost their job, they may require an increase in child support, even if only temporarily.
Whether you are the custodial or non-custodial parent seeing changes to child support obligations, it will be key to identify and document for the court how your expenses have changed due to the pandemic. These specific facts will be submitted with your request to modify support. Although each state has its own guidelines for calculating and modifying child support, courts generally consider each parent’s income and time spent with the child. Judges will review tax returns or recent paystubs to determine this income, and they may also count other items as income, including:
- unemployment benefits,
- veterans’ benefits,
- military pensions, and
- interest income from savings or investment accounts.
Depending on the child’s best interests, the court may choose to consider whether either parent’s earning capacity should be considered rather than actual income. Note that earning capacity is determined based on both the parent’s ability and opportunity to work.
The parent seeking the child support modification bears the burden of showing a change in circumstances for a modification of the existing order. Where the paying parent seeks a support reduction because they have lost their job or otherwise suffered a reduction in earnings, that parent bears the burden of proving they lack both the ability and the opportunity to earn. On the other hand, the supported parent who seeks a child support increase bears the burden of proving the other parent’s ability and opportunity to earn.
In your application, you should also be prepared to show that you’ve been looking for work. This means printing your emails to potential employers and copies of any applications you’ve sent in. As mentioned earlier, you will also have to submit information about your income, expenses, assets, and debts so a judge can recalculate child support.
One way for a parent to modify child support obligations that does not involve the courts is to communicate directly with the other parent to reach a modified agreement. Parents may agree on an alternate arrangement for child support during the pandemic, and it is important during these negotiations to be upfront regarding your ability to provide payment or necessity for increased payment (e.g. the parent was laid off from their job). In this scenario, you may be able to reach a written stipulation to be approved and later entered by the court, giving you a new child support order without having to go back to court. Note that some family courts are temporarily closed except for emergency matters, like restraining orders, due to the pandemic. Check the California COVID-19 website for information on how to modify child support during these closures.
Contact California Child Support Services
If you need immediate assistance with your child support case, contact your local child support agency. Although these offices are physically closed, they may be available to take calls. California Child Support Services created an online case service platform (“Customer Connect”) for parents to contact case workers during the pandemic.
If you can’t pay child support due to the physical or financial effects of COVID-19, your local California agency can help you:
- request a “review and adjustment” with the necessary paperwork, or
- stipulate with your ex-partner to change your child support order.
Contact Claery & Hammond, LLP for Legal Counsel
The legal process for modifying child support obligations can be quite nuanced and lengthy. However, California Child Support Services recognizes the growing need for changes in child support obligations from parents during the time of COVID-19 that has led to mass unemployment and fiscal uncertainty. If you seek to modify your child support obligations, contact the attorneys at Claery & Hammond for legal guidance in this tough time.
Reach out to Claery & Hammond, LLP today to schedule a free consultation.