The coronavirus (COVID-19) (“coronavirus”) has impacted many Virginian’s employment and income. If you are a parent paying child support pursuant to a child support order, you may be concerned about your ability to make your child support payments during these uncertain times. The family law attorneys at Wharton, Aldhizer and Weaver are here to help you navigate these domestic issues.
My support order was entered prior to the pandemic, and I am currently earning less income because of the coronavirus. Is there a way to change my monthly child support payments?
- Yes. Once a court enters a child support order, the amount of support can be reevaluated if either party demonstrates that there has been a material change in circumstances since the entry of the last order. A material change in circumstance can be an event that increases or decreases a parent’s income. If your income is impacted by the coronavirus, you should promptly consult with an attorney about filing a Motion to Amend or Modify Child Support.
When will I get into court to have my child support matter decided by a Judge?
- It is not likely that you will get into court in the near future because the Supreme Court of Virginia declared a judicial emergency due to the coronavirus. Courts are only hearing emergency and essential hearings at this time. However, it is still important that you promptly file a Motion to Amend or Review Child Support if you determine your gross monthly income is impacted by the coronavirus. Child support can be modified for any period there is a pending Motion to Amend or Modify Child Support from the date that the opposing party received notice of the motion.
Does my temporary job or unemployment insurance benefits count as “income” for the purposes of calculating my gross monthly income?
- Yes—a temporary job and unemployment insurance benefits count as “income”. One of the primary elements factored into the child support formula is each party’s gross monthly income. Many parents wonder what counts as “income” for child support purposes. The truth is that “income” is defined broadly, including “all income from all sources, and shall include, but not be limited to, income from salaries, wages, commissions, royalties, bonuses, dividends, severance pay, pensions, interest, trust income, annuities, capital gains, social security benefits, workers’ compensation benefits, unemployment insurance benefits, disability insurance benefits, veterans benefits, spousal support, rental income, gifts, prizes or awards.” Virginia Code Ann Section 20-108.2 (C). Therefore, it is important to keep accurate records of your pay from any temporary employment arrangements during the pandemic.
What happens if I just stop paying support until the end of the pandemic?
- These are definitely difficult times, but parents should endeavor to keep making their child support payments. If you unilaterally stop paying court ordered child support, then the other party can file a Motion for Show Cause as to why you should not be held in contempt of court for refusing to abide by the court’s support order. You will have to explain to the court why you neglected to pay support. Courts will not be pleased with individuals who use the coronavirus as an excuse to neglect their duty to support their children. After all, the court orders child support for the benefit of the children. Therefore, if you are having issues paying the full child support payment, you should immediately contact an attorney to discuss the specific details of your case and determine the best course of action.
If I voluntarily quit my job during the coronavirus, can I lower my child support payments?
- You should speak with an attorney who specializes in family and domestic law to flesh out the details of your case before voluntarily quitting your job. Individuals should refrain from making decisions that could result in their under-employed. Some examples of under employment are voluntarily leaving a position for a lesser paying job and termination from a position “for cause”. The consequence of under employment is that a court may “impute income” to the individual, because he or she has a higher earning potential. Virginia Code Ann Section 20-108.1(B)(3). Courts impute income to under-employed parents to deter parties from making employment decisions to intentionally negatively impact their employment opportunities in an effort to pay less child support.
Please be advised that all cases have a unique set of facts and that the above examples are not intended to be all inclusive. Attorneys at Wharton Aldhizer & Weaver are available to assist with compliance and to answer any questions on these types of matters.