The COVID-19 pandemic has had a serious financial impact on millions of Pennsylvanians. Businesses have been closed, and many workers have been laid off or have had their hours reduced, affecting spousal and child support orders.
Whether you pay or receive financial support from an ex-spouse or co-parent, facing financial hardship is challenging. Our family law attorneys at Thomas, Conrad & Conrad can help you sort it all out and file a petition to modify your spousal or child support order during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Who Can File for Modification of a Support Order?
If a support order is already in place, either party can file to modify it when there is a substantial change in circumstances. However, decreased income must be involuntary. If you choose to quit your job or willingly refuse to work, the judge may deny your petition for modification. If you have been laid off, forced to take a pay cut, or have had your hours reduced during the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be entitled to a reduction in spousal or child support payments.
The pandemic has also forced many families to make changes to child custody arrangements, affecting support payment amounts.
File for a Modification as Soon as Circumstances Change
If you have a support order that was granted by the court, you are required by law to notify the domestic relations office in your county and the party who receives support immediately following any change in income. Requests to modify a support order can be submitted online and are effective as of the day of filing, even if your hearing is not conducted for weeks thereafter.
If you fail to file for a modification and miss child or spousal support payments, you can still face consequences. Most domestic relations offices are open on a limited basis, by appointment only, and conferences and hearings are being conducted via telephone and videoconference. Courts are also facing significant backlogs, so the sooner you file, the better.
Contact your attorney to find out if your circumstances qualify you for a modification of support. Regardless of whether you’re asking for an increase in support because of lost income or need to reduce payments because of financial circumstances, your lawyer can determine how much of an increase or decrease you may be entitled to and help you file a modification petition.
Modifying a Spousal or Child Support Order Without Court Involvement
Although it can be tempting to avoid the legal process during the pandemic and make a verbal support agreement with your ex-spouse or co-parent, it can lead to trouble down the road. If you are court-ordered to make child or spousal support payments in Pennsylvania, you are required by law to make your payments in full.
Without a court order from a judge, you will be held accountable for the full amount you were ordered to pay in your existing agreement. Even if the person receiving support agrees to accept a lesser amount, you may be liable for outstanding payments in the future without a formal modification order.
What to Do if You Stop Receiving Support
If you receive spousal or child support from someone and they have stopped making payments, it’s important to talk with a family law attorney about enforcing an existing order. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has had a legitimate impact on many people, some may try to use it as an excuse to stop paying support. In this case, you may have to file for a petition for contempt of support. Although processes vary by county, most of these issues go through your local domestic relations office.
How a Lawyer Can Help
Financial hardship is difficult to deal with at any time, and the added stressors of the pandemic can make problems seem insurmountable. An experienced lawyer can help you sort it all out, find solutions, and help you take decisive action right away.
A family law attorney who is familiar with changes that have been implemented in the local courts during the COVID-19 pandemic can also help you avoid errors that slow the process and ensure you are following Pennsylvania’s spousal and child support laws.
Contact a Lehigh Valley Child Support Attorney
Issues surrounding spousal and child support are often urgent. During these challenging times, the family law team at Thomas, Conrad & Conrad is here for you. Whether you need to modify or enforce a support order, you can count on us to provide responsive, dependable legal support you can trust.
To schedule a consultation, contact us online or call our Bethlehem office at 610-867-2900. We serve clients throughout the Lehigh Valley and Pocono Mountains region. We also have offices in Allentown, Stroudsburg, and Topton, Pennsylvania.