Unemployment filings continue to increase this month as a result of coronavirus. One of the many unfortunate outcomes of the Covid-19 virus is that parents are being laid off. Some parents are forced to take sick leave to either care for themselves or other family members, resulting in being additional quarantine restrictions and thus unable to work. It is unknown as to when these parents and caregivers will be able to return to the workforce and what the financial landscape will look like when the pandemic ends.
The question that many parents are having is “how can I afford to pay my support,” “can it be lowered” or “will I still receive my support.” Parents are seeking to modify the amount that they pay or to stop enforcement until they return to the workplace. Those who receive support are fearful of what will happen to them and the children if support stops or is reduced.
Under normal circumstances, child support is modifiable under a “significant change in circumstances.” The loss of employment is to be involuntarily and not temporary. Courts are hesitant to reduce child support where it is believed a change is short-term. Further, there is to be evidence that the person seeking the reduction to support due to unemployment is seeking new employment. At present, it is uncertain if a parent paying support can meet these standards as Covid-19 has changed the employment landscape.
To complicate matters further, the New Jersey Courts are not operating as normal. Filings are complicated due to limited access. Courts are starting to utilize e-filing, though being this is so new in the family court is can be expected that there will be hiccups. There is no precedent of how courts should handle child support modifications during a pandemic because we have not seen anything like this in over a hundred years. Courts may make exceptions and address these cases differently.
One way to try to resolve this would be through mediation and collaborative practice. Many mediators and collaborative lawyers are set up to work virtually with clients. Mediation and collaborative practice allow the parties to negotiate a settlement on the issue without the need for costly and uncertain litigation. Both mediation and collaborative practice can help parents structure an agreement that would be mutually beneficial, being mindful of the needs of both parents while protecting the children. And the courts can be easier to navigate if there is a mutually agreement of the parents on how support will be handled.
Parents who have questions about their support obligations should consider speaking with an experienced family law attorney to discuss their options and how best to proceed.