June 1, 2020
The COVID-19 Pandemic is clearly unprecedented in the course of human history, impacting daily life like no event ever before. If you are divorced or contemplating a divorce, here are some important things to know about how COVID-19 will affect your life:
- Courts Are Open – While many non-essential businesses are closed, courts technically remain open. Even a pandemic does not prevent the public’s right to access the justice system. It is supremely important to parties of divorce and custody cases for courts to continue to function because of the ever-evolving nature of family law disputes. Many divorce courts are using tele-video conference (e.g., Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams) to conduct status conferences, hearings on contested motions, and even trials. There is no reason to wait until the pandemic is over or for the country to “reopen”; the courts are functioning.
- Child Support Modification – Most child support laws allow a modification if there is a substantial change in circumstances, which can include the significant increase or decrease in income by one of the parents. The Coronavirus Pandemic has caused an economic calamity, with unemployment at historic levels. Once the Paycheck Protection Program runs out, and people stop receiving full unemployment benefits, income levels will drop. If you lost your job, or your business has experienced a downturn, this would be a substantial change in circumstances that you can use as a basis for modifying your child support obligation. You have to act fast, however, as a child support obligation is extremely difficult if not impossible to get out of without paying, and you can be subject to interest and penalties.
- Spousal Support Abatement – Much like child support, spousal support (known as “alimony” or “maintenance”) can also be modifiable depending on the circumstances. The economic downturn of the COVD-19 pandemic is cause to seek a modification of support, or even an abatement. An “abatement” is a legal term meaning to stay or pause the support obligation. If you are paying spousal support, you may be able to abate your payments until you recover economically.
- Parenting Time – The pandemic is not a reason to interfere with the other parent’s visitation time with their child. Despite being a health disaster, many family law Courts have issued orders and guidelines stating that parenting time and visitation must continue as agreed or ordered in the era of social distancing. Many parents are expressing serious concern that the other parent is not adhering to social distancing guidelines. While a judge might ultimately agree that a parent is not doing enough to protect themselves, it should be brought to the court’s attention instead of simply refusing to exchange the children.
Thanks to our friends from Hecht Schondorf LLC for their insight into family law during the pandemic.