What happens to child support if job’s lost due to COVID-19?
Wednesday, June 03, 2020 @ 11:21 AM | By Darlene Rites
How to manage? Parents’ obligations and their children’s needs don’t stop, even in the middle of a worldwide crisis. Those who make support payments have to continue. At the same time, keep in mind that courts do understand the ebbs and flows of life and how economic conditions can change.
Our family justice system has procedures in place to adjust the amount of child support to be paid for those who encounter bumps along the road. Nothing is automatic, of course, and when conditions take a turn for the worse, as they have for many people now, separated or divorced couples can always negotiate a new separation agreement to recognize these difficult times.
Clients may need to be reminded that stopping child support payments is simply not a viable legal option. Among the possible consequences:
- The courts can reach into bank accounts and garnish (seize) funds
- Government funding such as tax refunds can be garnished
- Driver’s licences and passports can be suspended
- A non-payer’s credit rating can be ruined.
How to adjust amount of support
If your client is in the situation where they simply can’t afford the child support they’re obligated to pay, there are steps they can take:
- Self-assess the situation to see if they qualify for help. The federal government is accepting applications for emergency financial assistance. They should go through their own details and see if they meet all the eligibility requirements to receive the aid. Also, ask them to think about other assets available to them — such as inheritance, savings accounts, possessions that could be sold, help from family members.
- Think about former spouse’s situation. Does the other parent still have a job or access to funds that will help to pay the rent or mortgage, and provide food, shelter and clothes for the child?
- Consider the expenses that have gone because of the pandemic. Because much of the nation has closed, parents likely do not have to pay for day care, private school fees, costs of extracurricular activities (sports teams and educational programs), and transportation to various events and gatherings.
Once the client has all the information, the next best course of action is for them to have a rational conversation with the other parent. If they are able to reach a decision on their own, that’s best for all parties involved. If the client is unable to have a rational conversation with their ex-spouse, they could consider meeting with a mediator. Mediation with a trained, accredited mediator can often resolve issues more quickly, at less cost and with less acrimony.
If both parents are able to reach an agreement, it’s definitely in the client’s best interest to have the agreement put in writing, reviewed by a lawyer and signed by both parents.
What to do if agreement can’t be reached
If a mutual agreement is not possible, the next course of action should be to leverage your skills and expertise as a family law lawyer to help them file a motion in court to change the current agreement.
Remember that losing a job is one of the qualifiers that may enable the client to have the amount of monthly child support legally changed.
Regardless, remember that the purpose of child support is to make sure the child has access to proper food, clothing and shelter. No one wins if the client suddenly stops child support payments.
Keep in mind that no matter how long the pandemic lasts, this is a temporary situation. If the client and their former spouse or partner are able to reach an agreement on a reduced amount of child support, it’s fair to include language in the agreement that the payments will return to normal when the situation is righted.
Regardless of which approach is used, you can provide important and necessary help. You can help the client make sure they reach the best situation that will help them navigate the COVID-19 crisis and ensure their children get the support they need.
Darlene Rites is a family law lawyer and mediator at the Toronto firm of Ferreira & Bettencourt LLP.
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