The COVID-19 Financial Fallout – Child Support

Posted: March 30th, 2020 by

Within our personal lives and for many of our clients, the fallout of mandatory orders to “stay home” is financial. Anyone who is engaged in a business that cannot be undertaken from home, is self-employed in a non-essential business like real estate or construction, is a small business owner who provides any personal services or who works in a service industry position (either front or back of house), may suddenly find themselves without a paycheck. As this pandemic continues, I will try to address the financial questions that arise and provide helpful information for our firm’s clients. This week, the topic is child support:

1. I lost my job and I pay support. What do I do now? Generally, you should apply to modify your support as soon as possible. If you have lost your job and you have a support obligation, you must proactively apply to have your monthly support amount modified. Pennsylvania law usually does not allow for retroactive modifications, so it is important to apply immediately. Even if the hearing cannot occur right away, we want to preserve your argument for an adjustment to the time your employment ended.

2. What about unemployment income? Will I need to pay from that? Unemployment income is still considered income, so you will still need to pay child support. However, the court can reduce your support to be consistent with your actual income rather than your prior earnings.

3. Will my child support be withheld from unemployment? Generally, child support will not be automatically withheld from your unemployment compensation so you should make payments directly to the Pennsylvania State Collection and Disbursement Unit (PA SCDU) in the interim. I typically recommend that, even if it is not possible to make the entire payment, clients make some payment toward their support obligation. I understand that your income has dramatically decreased, but there are still expenses associated with your children. While the recipient can still initiate enforcement mechanisms when a complete payment is not made, the automatic remedies initiated by the system usually occur when no payment is made for two successive months. In addition, I believe that a judge will look more kindly on a payor who has made an attempt to continue support, particularly if there is a modification pending.

4. What happens if I cannot pay my support because I don’t have any income? The court has a whole set of mechanism to enforce court-ordered support, including suspending licenses, issuing an arrest warrant and even incarceration. That is why it is important to apply for a modification when your income changes and to make some minimal payment, if possible.

5. I receive child support – will there be any change in how I receive payments? If you receive child support through PACSES (the Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement System), and the obligor remains employed, there should be no change in how you receive your support. The PACSES system is continuing to run and is distributing payments received directly or via wage attachment.

6. I receive child support and I lost my job. Do I need to file to modify? You may decide to file to modify, although you are not required to do so. Whether it makes sense to do so may depend on the allocation of additional expenses that are incorporated in your order and whether your change in employment is likely to be short term. While the current guidelines use an “income sharing” model, the base support number paid is tied much more closely to the payor’s net monthly income than the recipient’s income. Accordingly, you may wish to look at how the support number might change to determine whether it makes sense to immediately file to modify.

7. The other party and I worked out a number we can both live with. How do we make that official? I always encourage parties to resolve their differences. The most straightforward way to accomplish this is to have an agreement drafted and signed by both parties. An attorney can help you create this in a form that will be accepted by the court.

It is typically best to confirm the information here with an experienced family law attorney as there may be specific nuances that make your case different, and my guidance may not apply. I remain happy to answer questions and provide support guideline calculations that address your specific situation. Even though our physical office must remain closed, I am always available via e-mail.

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