There are few absolutes in the world of divorce, but the unyielding nature of the obligation to make court-ordered child support and alimony payments is one of them. The failure to do so can have dire consequences – the possibility of jail time, a requirement to pay your ex-spouse’s attorney’s fees, garnishment of future pay and liens on assets, revocation of your driver’s license, and a negative impact on your professional and personal reputation, to name a few.
So, if you are one of the many who is experiencing a loss of income due to COVID-19, whether you’ve been furloughed, fired, or had your salary reduced – when you have legally-enforceable support obligations, what are your options?
What not to do
First, the worst thing to do – just stop paying without any advance notice. Not following support obligations leaves you exposed to accumulating arrearages, on which interest will begin to accumulate. Plus, it makes it impossible for your ex-spouse to plan how to meet the financial needs of the children who are, after all, your children as well.
What you can do
Instead, first, review your court order/agreement to see if there is a provision which details what process must be following in the event of a “change of circumstances.” Consulting an experienced family law attorney is also a wise plan.
If you have decent communication with your ex-spouse, explore whether the two of you can work together to agree on a payment plan through which you will pay what you can, while deferring part of your payments until your income resumes. Clarifying the agreement through an email exchange is preferable to a mere oral agreement.
In the absence of the ability to co-operatively work things out, have your attorney contact your ex-spouse’s attorney, or meet jointly with a mediator to work out a temporary fix which best addresses the needs of all those involved.
Finally, if it becomes clear that you will be without income for a significant period of time, consider legally modifying your support obligation. Remember, though, it is essential that you not put off initiating this process for too long since getting a reduction extending back retroactively prior to the date on which the request for modification was filed with the court is extremely unlikely.
COVID-19 is creating a lot of pain and suffering throughout the world. But with a careful and thoughtful process, you can minimize the pain both to yourself and to those to whom you owe an obligation of support.