As almost every aspect of our lives continues to be impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, many people are finding it hard to make ends meet as they wait for the economy to re-open. This is particularly true for those that must still try to manage on-going Court ordered financial obligations such as child support. I have received a lot of questions lately from parents eager to learn about whether they can modify their existing support payments due to loss of income during Covid-19, and while the general rule in family law cases is that child support can be modified, people seeking Covid-19 related modifications may face certain hurdles.
Florida law permits the modification of child support obligations, either up or down, based on a substantial, unanticipated, long-term change of circumstances. In most cases, child support modification requests are based on a reduction in a parent’s income usually caused by a change in or elimination of employment. If such a change in employment has occurred, then the proper avenue to pursue is to seek a modification through the filing of a Supplemental Petition for Modification. In such a petition, the parent seeking modification must fully state the reasons as to why they can no longer make their Court-ordered support payments, including indicating when the income reduction started and how long the situation may be expected to last.
There are two main issues with requesting child support modifications during the Covid-19 pandemic that I can see. The first issue is whether or not a parent’s reduction in income would constitute a long-term change or a change that is more permanent in nature, versus a temporary reduction in income that has the potential, in the near future, to go back to pre-Covid 19 levels. This is evaluated on a case-by-case basis and determined by the industry in which a paying parent works, including the ability of that industry to get back going again. For example, if a parent is furloughed from their employment, but expected to return to work by June, then it may be difficult to argue to the Court for a modification of your support obligations. If however, you work in an industry, or at a job that may not bounce back quickly, or at all, then your chances of obtaining a modification of your child support amounts would be greatly increased.
The other main issue that could arise, depending on the county in which you live, is how to access to Court system during Covid-19. Back in March, the Florida Supreme Court issued orders that effectively closed courthouses throughout the State for all but essential court proceedings through the end of May. Under the guidelines provided by the Florida Supreme Court, the lower courts throughout Florida are to try to continue court services and proceedings using whatever technology is available to them. This means many non-essential hearings, such as child support issues, may be able to be heard telephonically or even by video until the Courts reopen to the public.
Each county is handling these issues slightly differently, with some counties moving full steam ahead with video and telephonic hearings, while others are only hearing essential matters, so if you have questions about your child support during Covid-19 it’s important to speak with an experienced family law attorney to discuss your specific case and circumstances. Attorney Russell J. Frank is a partner at CPLS, P.A., and focuses his practice areas on family and marital law. Contact Attorney Frank today at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss any family or marital legal issues you may be experiencing.