Child Support During the Coronavirus Pandemic

March 23, 2020
Louis Sternberg

Inevitably, financial crisis, including the recent recession, result in countless child support applications, most commonly, contempt / violation proceedings as well as modification petitions seeking to reduce support orders.  The Coronavirus pandemic will certainly yield an influx of such casesin coming weeks and months. 

Undoubtedly, parents will have many questions about how the Coronavirus and COVID-19 will affect their child support obligations.  We will attempt to address some of the most common questions but if this article does not address your question, please contact us by email for further information.

Does COVID-19 / Coronavirus suspend child support payments?  Do I have to pay child support during the Coronavirus pandemic?

  • The recent outbreak of COVID-19 does not suspend child support obligations.  A non-custodial parent is still obligated to pay pursuant to the child support order even if he or she has lost their job.

What do I do if I’ve lost my job due to Coronavirus? 

  • If you are ordered to pay support but have lost your job or otherwise cannot pay your support obligation, communicate with the other party so he or she can budget accordingly.  From there, make diligent efforts to find new employment and document all such efforts. 
  • Ordinarily, we direct clients to file petitions for downward modifications of child support after a loss of a job.  Unfortunately, pursuant to statewide administrative order, the Family Court Clerks’ offices are generally not accepting any filings except for “emergency” applications.  As a result, many child support petitions cannot be filed at this time.  Anyone who wishes to file such a modification is urged to do so as soon as possible in order to ensure the earliest possible retroactive date for any downward modification. 

What penalties do I face for not paying child support during COVID-19?  Will I go to jail for not paying child support due to Coronavirus? Can I hold my ex in contempt for not paying child support during the COVID-19 outbreak?

  • One of the most important things to remember is that child support obligations (and the arrears) are not vacated until you file for a modification and the court grants that request.  As such, the arrears accumulated during the Coronavirus outbreak will not be vacated (absent a court order) regardless of whether you are at fault for the non-payment.
  • The question of how a court will adjudicate contempt motions and petitions regarding non-payment during the Coronavirus outbreak is very fact specific.  We assume that a genuine loss of employment or reduction of income attributable to COVID-19 will not result in a finding of a willful violation of an order of support or incarceration but every case is unique.  A detailed discussion of the facts and circumstances of such cases, including any prior violations, is necessary to properly answer the question.
  • Lastly, anyone under a child support obligation is urged to pay something, even if such payments are less than the amount ordered.  Most judges and magistrates are much more likely to enter a willful finding of non-payment and incarcerate a non-custodial parent when no support has been paid.  Conversely, when support is paid, albeit in a sum less than the amount ordered, incarceration is far less likely. 

Also, please see our recent post about child custody and child visitation during the Coronavirus pandemic.