Child Support and the COVID-19 Pandemic
The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the United States has been significant, and many experts fear we are only at the beginning. In the month of March, many Maryland businesses were ordered closed by Governor Hogan. On March 30th, Governor Hogan issued a Stay at Home Order, which, in pertinent part, requires all but essential workers to stay home, or face a $5,000 fine and/or up to a year in jail. Many Marylanders have lost their jobs or seen a significant reduction in their income. Others are worried about the status of their jobs and future income stream.
As a result, many individuals who owe monthly child support are fearful of whether they can, or will be able to, continue to pay child support. This fear is true not only for those who have lost their jobs, but for those who have seen a decrease in their income. There are questions such as: “I don’t want to violate a court order that requires me to pay child support, but I lost my job and I can’t afford it, what can I do?” Or, “I have suffered a significant decrease in my income, and I can’t continue to pay the same amount of child support, what can I do?”
In Maryland, child support, like custody, is modifiable if there has been a material change in circumstances warranting the modification. A loss of employment or a substantial reduction in income due to the COVID-19 pandemic is a material change in circumstances. A sizeable decrease or increase in childcare costs could also constitute a material change in circumstances.
It is critical, should you suffer a loss of employment or significant decrease in income due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, to FILE YOUR MODIFICATION IMMEDIATELY.
This is because, in Maryland, a retroactive modification of child support is possible under the law. For example, if you file to modify your child support payments in April 2020 but are not scheduled to appear before the Court for your hearing until August 2020, the Court CAN retroactively modify your child support downward dating back to April 2020. The Court CANNOT go further back than the month of filing. Even though the Maryland Courts are closed to the public, the Courts are still accepting modification filings.
In the meantime, it is a good idea to have a conversation with the recipient of your child support. See if you and he/she can work out a temporary reduction or suspension of the child support, perhaps with a “make-up” of those payments at some future date, and always put that agreement in writing with signatures. If both parties can work together during these tough times, it is always best for families to be able to reach resolution outside of Court.
These are incredibly frightening economic times, but rest assured, you have options. As always, it is always best practice to speak to an attorney before signing any agreement and/or filing any matter. Your local Office of Child Support Enforcement may also be able to assist. Stay healthy and well, everyone!