Financial Friction: How COVID-19 is Disrupting Divorce, Alimony and Child Support Considerations
The coronavirus pandemic is causing financial hardships for many, especially those who are in the middle of a divorce or are already under an agreement or court order regarding alimony or child support.
If you are contemplating divorce, or are already in the middle of your divorce, you may need to re-think your strategy.
Going through a divorce is difficult during the best of times; add in a global pandemic and the related uncertainty, and it can feel like there has never been a worse time. There are several key considerations that anyone contemplating a divorce – or already in the middle of one – should make given the shifting landscape caused by the pandemic.
Timing is everything. This pandemic might be a good reason to hit the pause button on litigation, and instead look for alternative paths for resolution while using this time to plan and gather information. Courts in Maryland and DC are closed for all but emergencies, and many judges are requesting that non-emergency filings be held until courts re-open. There will be unavoidable delay in getting any relief through the courts.
With jobs, the economy, and the stock markets in flux, it may be difficult to get your arms around the facts of your case, including the values of assets that will be divided. Consider:
- Any valuations or appraisals that were conducted prior to the pandemic may need to be redone or updated in light of the economic downturn.
- The real estate market is being impacted too, so you will need to consider whether selling or re-financing any real estate is in your best interests.
- You may be able to maximize each spouse’s financial resources upon divorce by thinking outside the box and negotiating with your spouse, or by waiting until the economy rebounds to pursue divorce.
Given the holding pattern that many would-be divorcees may find themselves in during the pandemic, it is a great time to think about your future plans, strategize with your lawyer and implement those strategies, and work on gathering information that will be necessary when your divorce process gets underway. Find out from your attorney what “homework” you can accomplish with any downtime you might have right now so that you can be in the best position possible to move forward efficiently when the pandemic ends.
If you aren’t going to press pause on your divorce, rest assured that you still have options. Family law attorneys are available to help you by phone, email and video conference. And, alternate methods of dispute resolution are likewise available, such as negotiation, mediation and collaborative law. If you don’t have an attorney, now is a great time to schedule a consultation, so that you can, at the very least, develop a plan for protecting yourself during this unprecedented time of upheaval.
What if You Pay or Receive Alimony or Child Support?
If you are already divorced and pay or receive alimony or child support, changes in income for the payor and/or the recipient may affect you.
As a result of the pandemic, loss or reduction of income is occurring across all income levels. Marvel star Jeremy Renner (a.k.a. Hawkeye in The Avengers film franchise), for example, recently filed to reduce his child support payments because of a reduction in income.
If you pay or receive alimony or child support, and either you or the person you pay or receive alimony or child support from experience a loss or reduction of income related to the pandemic, that support may be able to be modified.
In Maryland, alimony is modifiable, unless you agreed otherwise or waived alimony, as circumstances and justice require upon the filing of a request by either party. In DC, alimony is modifiable, unless you agreed otherwise or waived alimony, upon a substantial and material change of circumstances; and, the modification may be retroactive to the date a request for modification is filed.
In Maryland, child support is always modifiable upon a material change of circumstances, and the modification may be retroactive to the date a request for modification is filed. In DC, child support is modifiable upon a substantial and material change in the needs of the child or the ability to pay of the responsible party, and the modification may be retroactive to the date a request for modification is filed.
If you pay or receive alimony or child support and your income decreases as a result of the pandemic, you should immediately consult a family law attorney to see if you need to file to modify the support obligation in your Court order. Filing immediately may be key to preserving the retroactivity of your claims, and may be possible even with courts closed.
Now is the Time to Plan
With courts closed, remember this is a good time to gather information, plan or look into other ways to reach resolution. If the person from whom you receive support experiences a decrease in income as a result of the pandemic, gather pertinent details. Such information includes: whether the payor was laid-off or furloughed; are any benefits or payments ongoing; is there a severance package; is income not being paid at all or just being deferred?
If you do not have counsel, now is a great time to find an attorney and have a consultation. Keep in mind that you are not alone, and there are many ways to come to a speedy resolution outside of court.
Erin Kopelman is a divorce attorney who handles cases involving domestic relations and family law. For more information on COVID-19 and its impact on alimony and child support, contact Erin at [email protected].