Family law in the Time of COVID-19: Income Loss – Child Support Edition

What if I’ve lost income during COVID-19 and am required to pay child support?

Overview

If you’ve lost income due to unemployment, reduced hours, or furlough, you can file to modify child support.  To modify child support means a change in child support.  Child support can be modified when a “material change of circumstances” has occurred. 

Changes in circumstance can include changes in a parent’s income or in a child’s expenses.

Retroactive Modification of Child Support

Maryland law only allows a court to modify child support dating back to the date a request is filed with the court.  This idea of dating back to filing is also called “retroactivity”.  You can read more about retroactive child support here.

Filing in court to modify child support as soon as an income loss occurs allows a court to change child support dating back to the date the request was filed.  A parent who waits to file loses out on retroactivity for the period of time between the income loss and the actual filing date.

Reducing Child Support Before Support is Modified

Difficult questions arise when a parent’s income is reduced and a parent can continue to pay some, but not all, of the support ordered.  Should a parent pay child support after an income change?  If so, how much?

Recoupment is a legal concept that, in theory, allows courts to require reimbursement of overpaid child support.  However, recoupment is more theory than reality.  This is because child support paid is presumed to be used for the benefit of the child.  Even overpayments.  Taking that money away from the child is generally considered detrimental to the child.  So, this writer, has yet to see an award of recoupment.

So that leaves a parent with the difficult decision of whether to:

·         keep paying child support in the amount ordered with little hope of reimbursement; or,

·         reduce child support until a court can make a decision and potentially face a contempt case from the recipient parent or collection actions by the Office of Child Support Enforcement in the meantime.

This decision is usually best made in consultation with an attorney and considering what the child support guidelines based upon the parent’s changed income.

Conclusion

Income loss can be a reason to change child support. 

When it comes to child support, filing as soon as a change has occurred is important to preserve retroactivity – changes to support dating back to the court filing.  Then, a parent (ideally in consultation with an attorney) needs to decide if reducing support is the right decision while the modification request makes its way through the court.

Since 2002, Lindsay Parvis has represented clients in Maryland custody, divorce, and marital matters. She negotiates, litigates, and advocates for the best interests of her clients, whether in contested litigation, uncontested settlement, or premarital and other agreements. Her clients are not only spouses and parents, but also children whose interests she is appointed by the court to represent in contested custody litigation.  Lindsay strives to improve Maryland law in the General Assembly, volunteering her time to monitor, advocate, and educate about legislative developments in family law.

Lindsay Parvis

Client-focused legal representation starts with listening.  I listen to my clients’ needs, goals, and priorities.  From there, I educate my clients about the law and process to empower them with information and knowledge. This is especially important because my clients often feel unheard and powerless when facing a situation that feels out of control.

 

Contact Lindsay

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