Losing your job or small business is devastating, especially if you’re also paying child support and/or alimony. While it is stressful, you shouldn’t be down on yourself; so many people are suffering the effects of COVID. That said, there are ways to make support adjustments now (and later) so you can continue to make payments, but at a level that is more appropriate given the state of your current income.
In general, keep in mind that any adjustments made to spousal and child support payments will need to go through court to become enforceable.
Discussing Support Modifications
Be Upfront and Honest
The best course of action is to speak directly with your ex and explain the situation, whether you’re expecting a small or drastic change in income. We’re entering new ground as a nation and so many of us are suffering the economic impacts of this virus. So, make honesty your policy and make it clear to your ex that you want to maintain communication during these uncertain times, and that you plan to readjust payments when business picks up again.
Remember that your ex is only receiving this money in the first place because they need this support; they will probably need to make adjustments to their own expenditures as a result. The more time you can give to help them plan for this adjustment, the better support negotiations will go for both of you now – and down the road when the economy picks up again.
This probably goes without saying, but it’s also a good idea to demonstrate that you’re making adjustments in your own daily life to demonstrate to your ex that you’re also making sacrifices.
Being mindful of your tone is more important than ever right now. Anything that could be perceived as a demand or criticism will only serve to shut your ex down. If your ex can’t hear what you’re saying because they’re so focused on how you’re saying it, the conversation will go nowhere.
If you’re worried that you’re not coming across the right way as you discuss child or spousal support, address it: “I’m concerned that I wasn’t very articulate just now. I really didn’t mean to come across that way. I just want to make sure you know that I want to work this out together in a way that makes sense for both of us, given this extreme situation.”
RELATED: The Hello Divorce Podcast: Navigating Divorce & Co-parenting During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Best Case Scenario: An Agreement On Your Own (in Writing)
With court closures and delays (and the costs), coming to an agreement, out of court, with your ex is obviously ideal, but understandably, not always an option. If you are able to do this, a stipulation can be prepared and filed so that no court appearance is necessary.
Once you and your ex agree to the change in support, remember that the agreement must be in writing and prepared as the court requires. If you need or want help, Hello Divorce has lawyers and legal document assistants who are ready to help. (Request a quote here.)
Can’t Agree? File a Petition for Modification with the Court
If you’re unable to come to an agreement outside of court, you can still file to change the amount of support you pay. In general, the law in Utah allows for such modifications when there is a substantial change in circumstances. This typically refers to a significant loss of income.
Child support modification grounds:
- the relative wealth or assets of the parties;
- the income of a parent of 30% or more;
- the employment potential and ability of a parent to earn;
- the medical needs of the child; or
- the legal responsibilities of either parent for the support of others.
The change must result in a difference of 15% or more between the amount previously ordered and the new amount of child support under the Utah child support guidelines. The difference may not be temporary.
For modifying child support, after 3 years of the original support order, you can file a motion to review if there have been substantial changes in circumstances:
- There is a 10% or more difference between the ordered amount and the amount required by the guidelines, and
- If the change is not of a temporary nature, meaning it will not be of short duration (e.g. 6 months)
- the amount previously ordered was not a deviation from the child support guidelines.
If you are looking to modify, but it has been less than 3 years since your child support order was issued, modified, or reviewed, there must be a substantial change in circumstances to:
- Material changes in custody;
- Material changes in the relative wealth or assets of the parties;
- Material changes of 30% or more in the income of the parent;
- Material changes in the ability of a parent to earn;
- Material changes in the medical needs of the child; or
- Material changes in the legal responsibilities of either parent for the support of others
For either asking to modify child support or alimony, you may also be required to prove to the Court that you cannot find a position that paid you a similar amount to the job you lost. You may need to show that you have made efforts to find a job, and have been collecting unemployment or government assistance in the meantime. It might be useful for you to keep track of your job search efforts, like the places you applied to and on what date, how much the expected wage was, and so on. Once again, in the case of modifying child support, you must demonstrate the change in circumstances is not temporary. For example, if you lost your job and it doesn’t seem like you will find another similarly paying position for another year, that may qualify as a non-temporary change in circumstances entitling you to some relief.
A helpful resource for those suffering financially is Your Money: A Hub for Help During the Coronavirus Crisis, which is free, helpful and updated daily on The New York Times (no subscription needed for their coronavirus coverage). You’ll find information about unemployment insurance, how to keep the utilities on if you can’t afford them, and where to get free financial planning help.
Need help modifying support or have questions? Schedule a FREE 15-minute strategy session with our team of divorce experts.