May 20th, 2020

The Impact of COVID-19 on Family Support Orders

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Author: Monica Garcia Harms, Jordyn Y. Lueker

marital support

COVID-19 is having a significant impact on many facets of daily life, but for some people, the most profound impact is on their financial circumstances. When parents separate or spouses divorce, one party may be required to pay alimony and/or child support to the other. Alimony is determined by numerous factors, including the earning capacity of each party and the needs of the recipient spouse. Child support is calculated by examining each parent’s income and/or the needs of the child(ren). In these unprecedented times, many people have experienced a change in their personal finances. People have been furloughed, lost jobs, or received pay cuts. Regardless of whether these changes are temporary or long term, they can directly impact a person’s ability to pay support or his/her need for support during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Some families have agreed temporarily to alter alimony or child support during the pendency of the pandemic, with the understanding that the support figure will return to normal once the pandemic has passed. It is imperative that alterations to existing obligations be in writing, even if on a temporary basis. Current support obligations remain in effect and arrears continue to accrue unless the change in support is in an enforceable written form.  If the parties cannot agree on a change in support, the existing court order remains in effect unless one party requests a modification from the court. The date upon which the request is filed with the court can directly impact when the change in support comes into effect, as it marks the date of the retroactivity of the support. It is therefore prudent to act quickly if you believe your current financial circumstances warrant a change in your alimony and/or child support order. A change in available income could be a circumstance which qualifies as a “material change in circumstance” and may warrant a reduction or increase in the amount of support.

While child support is always subject to modification, alimony is only subject to change under certain circumstances. Specifically, unless parties have explicitly agreed that alimony is non-modifiable, it is modifiable. A court may increase or decrease the amount of alimony as “circumstances and justice require.” In addition, alimony may also be terminated or extended to avoid a “harsh and inequitable result.” If you are unsure about your ability to modify your existing alimony payments, you should provide the document that governs the payments to an attorney for review.

If you have experienced a change in your financial circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are in need of a modification of child support or alimony, it is important to discuss your options with a seasoned family law attorney.

You can find more on issues affecting businesses and individuals in our COVID-19 Resource Center.