Coronavirus has brought about an unprecedented time, leaving many who have lost their jobs or their income wondering whether child support payments will be affected. The answer is that it will depend on your specific circumstances. The analysis can be fairly complicated, especially now that Congress has passed the CARES Act.
Does child support change if I or the other parent lost their job due to COVID-19?
No, child support will not automatically change if a parent loses their job due to COVID-19. If you lose your job or are furloughed and can no longer pay, you must go to court to get the order modified. Until then, you are legally obliged to continue payments. Failing to pay court-ordered child support can result in dire consequences.
If it is the Division of Child Support (DCS) that set the child support order, they may have the ability to change it depending on how big of a change there has been to your income. DCS offices are currently only available by phone, at 1-800-422-KIDS (5437).
Can I file a case to change my child support?
Yes, a child support order in Washington can be modified in one of the two following ways:
Motion for Adjustment of Child Support: If it has been two years since the initial child support order and a parent’s income has changed, this is generally the quicker and easier path. There is less paperwork, and the matter can often be settled in a single hearing. Additionally, this motion can be filed if it has been at least one year since the original order, and the child changed age categories by turning 12.
Petition to Modify Child Support Order: If a year has passed from the initial child support order, this petition can be filed if either the payments are causing a severe financial hardship to you or the child, the child has turned 18 but hasn’t finished high school, or if there has been a drastic change in economic circumstances.
Filing a case to modify child support should be completed immediately after a change in income since child support cannot change retroactively. However, due to COVID-19, most court buildings in Washington are operating under emergency modifications and are shut down or closed to the public. As a result, there will likely be a lengthy delay before a judge can rule on the matter, which means no immediate relief. Depending on where you are located, some jurisdictions make it easier than others to file a modification request. Reach out to an attorney to discuss your options.
Do government payments I receive count toward my child support?
The one-time stimulus check from the federal government, termed the “economic impact payment,” pursuant to the CARES Act will most likely not be a factor when calculating child support. This is due to the checks legally being considered a tax credit, being advanced from the future 2020 tax return. Unless, the federal government is aware that you are behind in child support payments, then the check can be reduced.
Unemployment benefits, on the other hand, do factor into the obligor’s net resources when determining child support.
What happens if I cannot pay my child support?
Do everything you can to make payment on at least a portion of the amount of child support you owe. If at all possible, try to work out an arrangement or alternative payment plan with the other parent. If agreement cannot be reached, then court intervention will likely be necessary.
Any amount left unpaid will be considered a support debt, which can be collected by the parent it is owed to for a minimum of 10 years past the child’s 18th birthday. Once you begin working again, you can voluntarily make payments on the outstanding debt.