With businesses across the country shutting down and millions of people being furloughed from their jobs, the economic pressures resulting from the coronavirus pandemic are increasing. For parents who either pay or receive child support, financial anxieties may be even greater. Many support recipients will likely be paid less, at least in the short term, if the paying parent has lost a job.
If the recipient has also been laid off from work, that person’s ability to provide adequate care, food and shelter for children may be seriously jeopardized. Recipients of child support may be forced to rely upon social services and community organizations such as food banks to get through the crisis.
The worries for parents who have experienced an income drop and remain obligated to pay support are also increasing. Support payments are not suspended or eliminated by the pandemic. Falling behind in support will create a greater debt to be made up in the future. Many states have laws that result in the suspension of driving and professional licenses if a parent’s support payments fall too far behind.
Failure to pay child support also may result in defending yourself at a contempt proceeding in court. Courts can impose a variety of sanctions for failure to pay support, including mandatory wage garnishment, imposition of fines and costs and jail time.
The federal government is sending coronavirus economic stimulus checks of up to $1,200 to most adults. Depending on both state and federal government efficiency, checks going to parents owing support may be seized by state support enforcement offices.
Parents owing support can take several actions that will help to prevent their financial obligation from growing out-of-hand and that will minimize the potential imposition of sanctions by courts, once life returns to normal.
- Try to negotiate a lower monthly payment with your ex-spouse. Promise to make up the difference once the health crisis is over and you return to work. Communication can work wonders in a crisis. Alternatively, offer to take the kids for longer periods. Helping to provide some of your children’s basic needs may ease the financial burden on the custodial parent. Document all communication and keep all texts and e-mails.
- Continue to pay as much support as possible. Even if you cannot pay the full amount, paying something will both benefit your children and demonstrate a good faith effort to be responsible even if you have lost a job and income. State enforcement officers and family court judges are likely to give you more time to make up arrears if you have been doing your best during these tough times.
- Keep records. Document all your support payments including amounts and to whom payments were made. Also, keep records showing loss of a job or layoff and documentation showing the amount you were most recently paid.
- Look for another source of temporary income. While many businesses are closed, some that remain open have been hiring in droves. There is a demand for grocery store workers, pharmacy employees and delivery drivers. Amazon, Instacart, CVS, Walmart, Albertson’s, Dollar General, Safeway and Kroeger stores are among the employers looking for workers. The job may be temporary but so may be your need for employment until you can return to your prior job.
- Apply for unemployment. The federal government has approved funding allowing unemployment benefits to be extended and increased. Benefits are also available for many workers who were previously not eligible for assistance. Showing that you took every step possible to obtain funds to meet your support obligation will help should you face a future contempt motion for failure to pay support.
- File a motion in court to modify your support payments. While it is unlikely you will get a hearing right away, it is important to at least get the paperwork filed and have copies served on your ex-spouse. The monthly amount of child support will remain the same until changed by a court. Most courts will not reduce the amount retroactively, but some courts have the discretion to at least make the new amount effective on the date your ex was served with modification paperwork. The sooner you file the paperwork, the less back support may ultimately be owed.
- Contact your local support enforcement office. Explain your situation if you have lost a job or are experiencing reduced income. This shows a good faith effort to be proactive, and the enforcement staff may be able to work out a temporary reduction in your support obligation to be made up once you are again employed full-time.
- Make support payments a priority. If you are working with reduced income, establishing priorities for payment of your monthly obligations is even more critical. Food, basic utilities and shelter should be your top priorities closely followed by payment of support, since that is critical to provide food and shelter for your children.
- Reduce your expenses. Pay only the monthly minimum payments on credit cards. Contact credit card companies to see if you can skip a payment. Capital One and American Express are among companies that are allowing customers who ask for help to skip a monthly payment without penalty. If you have a monthly car payment, try refinancing to obtain a lower payment. If you have a semi-annual insurance payment coming up, change to a monthly payment plan to reduce the impact of having to cover a large payment.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has required everyone to make sacrifices. Taking the necessary steps to ensure that at least some, if not all, of your support obligation is paid during this difficult period will minimize the sacrifices your children must make. If you any questions about child support in New Jersey, call the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen at (201) 845-7400 for a consultation.