What to Do if You’ve Lost Your Job or Had a Change in Income as a Result of or Related to the Coronavirus
As the Coronavirus moves through the nation, the state, and our community, it impacts nearly every aspect of our day-to-day lives. As we all do our part to make sure we’re following orders to shelter in place or exercise social distancing rules to address immediate health and medical needs, a significant number of people have experienced job loss and other employment changes at record-breaking levels as a result of these protective measures. With the increase in layoffs and job loss, there is also a corresponding demand for changes to support orders.
For many families living under a tight budget, a person becoming unemployed represents a huge financial blow for the entire family; for both those paying and those receiving spousal support and/or child support. For a person obligated to pay support, the immediate question is how to continue to make spousal support and child support payments. For a person relying on support payments, an immediate concern is raised on how a person will meet his or her day-to-day needs and the needs of their children.
Modifying Spousal Support or Child Support
Unless you and your former spouse agreed that spousal support or child support was non-modifiable at the time of divorce, Oregon law contemplates and allows for a party to seek a modification to adjust his or her support award when a substantial change in circumstances occurs. This is true whether you are paying support or receiving it.
If a person loses a job or has a significant reduction of income for any reason, which includes the current pandemic, that constitutes a basis to seek a modification. A modification requires the person paying or receiving support to file a Motion with the Court to request that spousal support or child support decrease or increase and explain to the Court the reason that circumstances (now in the face of the pandemic) have created a significant change to the financial situation at the time of divorce, whether that be a change in income or necessary expenses or both.
When to Modify Support
A person impacted by a significant change that wishes to seek a modification should file this request for a modification with the Court as soon as possible. Most courts are limiting in-person appearances to the most critical matters in the community (primarily matters related to physical safety). As a result, there is a significant delay in non-essential proceedings, even if those proceedings affect a person’s ability to meet his or her financial obligations. Despite these delays, the time that a request for a modification of child support of spousal support is filed is significant.
It is important at the time of making the request to the Court that the person seeking a modification ask the Court that any change to his or her support obligation be retroactive to the time the motion was filed with the Court. This means that even if it takes several months for the issue to come before a Judge, when the issue is finally presented the Judge will have the option to order that any change date back to the time the request was initially made.
What to Do in Order to Prepare for the Modification
In the time between initiating a modification proceeding and actually reaching the final result there is still a lot that can be done to use this interim period productively. It is important to keep records of all communications from your employer with respect to changes in employment status and income. It is also important to keep detailed records of efforts to secure new employment or to obtain unemployment benefits.
It is also important to communicate any change in employment to the person receiving support so that he or she can attempt real-time adjustments to account for any change in support if payments will be reduced or cannot be made. While it is important to remember that any communication between the person paying and the person receiving support could potentially be used in Court, most judges expect parties paying support to communicate changes accurately and respectfully.
Remember also that unless there is a true inability to pay, a person obligated to pay support is better off paying a reduced amount of support than terminating support payments altogether. Demonstrating best efforts to fulfill support obligations can have a meaningful impact on the relationship with the recipient party and how a Judge views the case if ever presented in Court.
Other Options to Consider while Access to Court is Limited
In addition, attorneys and mediators are adjusting to the “new normal” and adapting their practices to comply with social distancing restrictions. This means that you and your former spouse can and should attempt to resolve the issue in mediation or other types of alternative dispute resolution, whether that is with or without attorneys assisting in the process.
When the time comes to try to resolve your case, whether in alternative dispute resolution or in Court, having an accurate record of the circumstances as they change over time will be significant to demonstrating that a substantial change in circumstances occurred and what the resulting impact to income and expenses has been for each party. Make sure that you check in with your attorney, as a lot of work can still be done to help reach a resolution even if the Courts are not hearing non-emergency family law cases.
Many challenging issues have arisen as a result of the pandemic and these unprecedented circumstances. Contact our firm to schedule a time with a family law attorney to discuss how to best address these changes and remember, at some point the crisis will wane and your family law matter will be resolved.
We Can Help
There’s nothing more important than family, especially during a time of crisis. If COVID-19 has affected your financial support obligations, and you’re interested in learning more, give us a call. We’re scheduling virtual consultations today. Call our office at 503-227-1515 or contact us online, anytime.
*This is general information only and not meant to provide specific legal advice.*
Authored by Katie Carson Goss, family law attorney, Gevurtz Menashe. Katie is a member of the Oregon State Bar and focuses her practice exclusively on family law issues such as divorce, parenting and custody issues, child and spousal support, relationships agreements, and more.