Shutdowns, layoffs, investment losses, and business closures that have been experienced during the COVID-19 crisis have caused millions of families economic pain.
This pain is even more pronounced for separated and divorced families whose contracted legal or court-ordered obligations have become challenging. Separated and divorced parents, both recipients, and payers are worried whether they will manage to pay and receive child support for the family upkeep.
With millions of Americans declaring unemployment, the courts have experienced a massive number of requests for spousal and child support modification. After all, the payments are calculated based on individual income histories without taking into consideration unprecedented events.
Consequences of Not Paying Child Support
In all 50 states, there is legislation that governs non-payment of court mandated child support. These consequences include;
- Loss of your driving license- Failure to pay child support leads to suspension of a driver’s license. Some states have extended the suspension to occupational, professional, fishing, and hunting licenses.
- Property Liens- A custodial parent who is owed child support can place a lien on your property. This means, if you intend to sell your property, you need to pay liens against them before handing over the titles.
- Jail time- The courts may order incarceration of those who have contempt of court. Not paying court-ordered child support can lead to a jail term.
- Felony Charges- If your arrears are $10,000 or more, a felony charge may be laid against you, if you have not made any attempts to pay it. The felony charges can lead to a jail sentence of up to 2years or fine.
- Wage garnishment- The court may order garnishment of 65% of your disposable income or payment of the entire requested amount at once.
- Denying renewal or issuance of a passport
- Diminished credit score
- Not seeing your child.
Whether receiving or paying spousal or child support, here some tips to navigating this tricky crisis and avoid legal consequences
- Communicate early
Communication solves many problems. It’s advisable to talk with your ex-partner and keep them abreast of any developments. Be it a loss of investment or big client, a pay cut, a layoff, any occurrence that lowers or could affect your income and ability to keep up with the payments should be communicated immediately.
Giving a heads up on changes affecting your cash flow or suspecting it might happen allows the receiver to tighten their belt. Moreover, communicating often will show your ex that you still care about their welfare. Honesty and transparency go a long way.
If both parties can reach an interim agreement on a continued (but reduced) or non-payment financial support, it’s vital to formalise the deal through an attorney and sign a legal document. This ensures you reach an agreement amicably without court intervention, saving money and time while having a legal document in case of future problems.
- Understand your financial situation as well as your ex’s.
It’s vital to understand each person’s financial situation during this pandemic.
Start by separating fluctuating income like deferred compensation and bonuses from the actual figures like stable income. Stable income may include interest income and a twice-monthly paycheck.
Breaking down your income will make a strong case when asking your ex-partner for reduced payment or when submitting a request for modified orders at the court.
It is vital to know your current ex-spouse situation, like lack of employment or support from the current girlfriend/boyfriend or family. Understanding this will help you to come up with a fair payment until your finances stabilize.
- Use alternate sources of income.
Both federal and state levels have come up with unemployment compensation, stimulus checks, and loans to businesses and individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, the stimulus bill covers both furloughed workers and the self-employed. This may help to pay your child support partially.
- Contact your state’s child support agency.
If your child support payment passes through the Child Maintenance Services (CMS) or the Child Support Agencies (CSA), inform them of your inability to make payments.
The agencies will assess your situation and negotiate accordingly. If you missed or reduced payments, the agencies may collect the arrears within two years or a certain percentage according to your financial commitments.
Failure to report your inability to make payments or the agreed amount may lead the agencies to recover your arrears without considering your current situation.
- Reduce your Expenses
In some cases, your co-parent may disagree with your request, or the court may be unwilling or unable to lower your child support fee. If this happens, opt to reduce your discretionary expenses and create more room for child support payments.
To reduce your costs, make a detailed budget, and relocate the extra cash towards your child and in case nothing is left, use it to prove you legitimately can’t afford your support obligations.
- Contact your Attorney
In case you have an acrimonious relationship with your ex or simply can’t reach an agreement, it’s time to involve an attorney.
Ensure you document your communication effort with your ex-partner. Your attorney may suggest an interim financial arrangement that may be agreeable to everyone. Sometimes, the involvement of the attorney may result in a resolution during emergent situations.
If there is an agreement, the attorney should draft the legal document,making it binding.
- Ask for Payment Modification from the courts
After trying the above methods and failing to come to an agreement, it’s time to ask for child support modification from the courts.
Fill your documents explaining your current situation. Provide detailed information and attach your proof. This will enable the court to make a quick and correct decision. The evidence would include paycheck stubs, employment termination letters, business failure, medical receipts, and anything that showcases your inability to make monthly payments.
Most states would rather an individual pay some child support than nothing. Allow your family lawyer to file the petition and notify your co-parent to avoid conflict.
It’s advisable to address the non-payment of your child support obligations as soon as possible to prevent legal consequences. Ignoring the issue has far-reaching implications for your child and your ex spouse as well. Supporting your child means providing them with a comfortable lifestyle for a brighter future. With financial and social uncertainty, opt to become a responsible parent, use the proper channels to stop or reduce your child support payments.