The coronavirus outbreak has not only turned out to be one of the deadliest pandemics in our nation’s history, the effects of it have also been devastating to the economy. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs or been forced to temporarily close their businesses, and although Virginia and other states are now in the process of reopening, experts believe that a large percentage of these businesses will not come back.
Because of the economic damage COVID-19 has caused, many families are struggling to make ends meet. However, the federal government did offer extra assistance to those who were unemployed or closed their businesses because of the pandemic. Unfortunately, the extra unemployment payments are set to expire at the end of July unless Congress acts to extend them. And since a lot of people have not been able to return to their jobs, a lack of action by Congress will leave many Americans in dire financial straits.
This brings up an important question for many Virginia parents who have child support obligations, “what happens if I can’t pay my child support because I lost my income due to COVID-19?” Maybe you have been able to tighten your belt and keep up with the payments while federal assistance was available, but after it runs out, it will be impossible for you to come up with the amount of support that is required.
Modifying Child Support During COVID-19
Virginia law allows for child support modifications when there is a substantial change in circumstance, and if a parent’s income changes by at least 25%, that is generally considered significant enough to justify modifying the support payment. This does not happen automatically, however – you must formally request the change through the court for it to become legally valid.
Before you take legal action, it is always best to reach out to the other parent and discuss the situation. Everyone knows what is going on with COVID-19 and the fact that so many people have lost their income or had it severely diminished, so if they are reasonably minded, they should be understanding of your need to alter the support at least temporarily.
Talk with the other parent and try to come up with a workable arrangement for the time being until you get back on your feet. This way, you will both be in agreement when you file for a child support modification.
As you try to work something out with the other parent, be sure to document all of your activities to show that you are making a good-faith effort to fulfill your obligations. Keep a record of all of your communication with the other parent to show that you were proactive and notified them about what was happening. Also document all of your attempts to find work and obtain government assistance; and do everything possible to pay what you can until you are able to formalize a new support arrangement.
An Oral Agreement is Not Enough
Even if you and the other parent are able to come to an arrangement to modify your child support because of a COVID-19-related income loss, you must still formalize everything in order to make it legal. It may seem like an oral agreement will do just fine, but this leaves you open to problems later on if the other parent is not totally on the same page with you.
Here is an example of how this might play out. Let’s say your federal unemployment has run out and you are only receiving a percentage of your prior income through the state of Virginia. You are hoping to get rehired or find another job soon, but for now, you ask the other parent if you can reduce the support payment by $500 per month. They say “okay”, and you proceed to pay the lower amount of support until you finally find a job six months later.
After your income is restored and you are back to paying the full child support payment, the other parent contacts you and asks for the $3,000 in back child support you owe. Your reply is that you both had an agreement for you to pay a lower amount; but they say “no”, they only agreed that you could defer the payment until you were working again. In the absence of a formal child support modification, the court is highly likely to side with the other parent in a scenario like this.
Need Legal Help during COVID-19? Contact Olmstead & Olmstead for Assistance
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted families in numerous ways. If you need help with child support modifications or any other family legal matters in Virginia, Olmstead & Olmstead is here for you. Message us online or call our office today at 703-361-1555 to schedule a free consultation. We are taking all of the precautions to keep our office continually clean and sanitized for your safety, and we are available for both in-person and remote consultations, whatever you are most comfortable with.