We're all in crisis mode due to the coronavirus pandemic, but for workers who have been laid off or who have lost income, it's even worse. And what does that mean for shared custody agreements? Do noncustodial parents still have to pay child support during the coronavirus pandemic?
No good parent wants to stop paying child support, but circumstances for everyone are changing and rapidly. Many restaurant workers are out of work, and gig workers, personal trainers, and assistant teachers are getting furloughed or laid off. The economic effects of COVID-19 are bad. Brian Blackham, a lawyer specializing in family law at Ghandi Deeter Blackham in Las Vegas, Nevada, tells Romper that as of now, child support payments should continue as usual. However, there are emergency measures that might be enacted for special circumstances.
"Unless your jurisdiction passes coronavirus-specific legislation that applies to payment of child support, the court will probably treat this case like any other case where a parent pay child support loses his source of income," he says noting that any such legislation is highly unlikely.
This is welcome news to many support-receiving parents who are already struggling due to their own loss of income. Dealing with more court negotiations is an unwelcome added stressor. And when you throw a pandemic-sized wrench into already clogged courts working with bare-bones staff, it's a potential nightmare.
Blackham notes that in a crisis, the laws still apply. "While each state has its own laws regarding the payment of child support, the party required to pay support is generally not entitled to unilaterally decide that for themselves," he says.
There are mandatory legal steps that must be taken, he says. He cautions that the support-paying parent "must ask the court to modify their obligation based upon a change in circumstances, which in this case would be the loss of their job due to the coronavirus." It would then be up to the court on how to rule. Remember, this isn't like pausing a payment on utilities or mortgage. When child support payments stop, it reduces the custodial parent's ability to adequately provide for the children. "While I would expect the court to be sympathetic to a party who lost his job through no fault of his own, that does not mean that the court would summarily eliminate the obligation altogether," he says. "And it certainly does not mean that the obligor gets to stop paying support without first making a proper request to the court."
Back child support laws, which vary by jurisdiction, go into effect when child support isn't paid and accumulates, Blackham says. In some states, such as Nevada, failure to pay child support can result in a judgment against the parent ordered to pay, he says. All in all, the decisions the court make will depend on where you live and your specific circumstance.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here, and Bustle’s constantly updated, general “what to know about coronavirus” here.
Brian Blackham, ESQ, lawyer specializing in family law at Ghandi Deeter Blackham in Las Vegas, Nevada