The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have quickly taken a toll on almost everyone’s physical, mentaland financial well-being. Government regulations enforcing social distancing and closure of all nonessential businesses has resulted in widespread job loss and employment insecurity. This can impact theability to pay child support and/or spousal support agreed to between separated parties or ordered by a court.
Many who have lost their jobs, closed their businesses or expect a support payment in the coming days are anxious about their rights and obligations during this turbulent time. Courts are closed for all but the most urgent family law matters. The inability to obtain judicial relief is yet another stressor in an already tense situation.
Upon job or income loss it is important that support payors assess their ability to continue to comply with their ongoing obligations. They should ascertain whether there are government benefits for people in similar situations, emergency funding to keep their businesses afloat, or deferral programs for mortgages or debt repayments that would allow a payor to continue to comply with a support obligation. Both federal and local governments are responding quickly to changed financial circumstances to provide assistance to those in need. If a support payor suddenly finds himself or herself unemployed it is important for parties to cooperate and avail themselves of maximum benefits.
Courts and lawyers have been urging families to use their best efforts to limit their children’s exposure to financial tensions by behaving in a rational and civilized manner. Courts have urged litigants to be reasonable, generous and understanding with one another during this time and have issued stern reminders that when the courts resume regular operations, they will frown upon unacceptable behaviour.
A qualified lawyer can ease both financial and emotional tensions by helping to negotiate and draft a temporary agreement containing a remedy or plan of action in order to get parties through these times. A temporary agreement can identify questions currently on everyone’s mind in the face of unforeseen unemployment such as who will fund children’s day-to-day expenses, how household bills will be divided and where payments will come from.
For those requiring a long-term solution in the face of permanent loss of employment, adjustments may be applied if the support payor can prove a material change in circumstances. In Willick v. Willick, the Supreme Court determined that a material change in circumstances is to be determined on the basis that had the court known of the changed circumstances at the time of the original order, it is likely that order would have contained different terms. In other words, the change must be of such a magnitude that, given the new and unforeseen circumstances, it is no longer appropriate to maintain the present terms. If the situation is truly dire, the court may entertain an urgent motion on this point.
These are very uncertain times and there is no “one size fits all” approach. Every situation is unique and must be evaluated on an individual basis. Our team is available to guide you through these times. If you are concerned about meeting your support obligation or would like further information as to whether the COVID-19 pandemic qualifies as a material change in circumstances in your case, please feel free to contact our intake department and schedule a consultation with an associate.
Please be advised that all articles written on this website are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice on any subject matter. The information contained within these articles is subject to change at any time and should not be acted upon without previous consultation with legal counsel.