One of the many impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic was a tremendous number of involuntary layoffs. Suddenly, persons who once held lucrative positions that allowed them to meet their day-to-day bills were now struggling to make ends meet. This often included child support obligations.
Unlike other bills, where the debtor may be able to negotiate with the creditor directly to restructure or delay payments, the child support obligor is unable to do so. Private agreements between the parties to modify a child support obligation are unenforceable. Only a court can modify a child support obligation, and the earliest the modification will be effective is the date the other side is served with the petition to modify. Even still, a court does not have to modify a child support obligation based upon a recent job loss if it finds the party who lost his or her job is “voluntarily” unemployed.
In the recent case of in re: Todisco, the child support payor [father] lost his job as technology sales executive in July of 2020 due to the COVID-19 slowdown. He filed a motion to modify child support in August of 2020. The trial court ultimately denied the father’s motion to modify, finding that he was voluntarily unemployed because, despite being laid off, he offered no evidence at the hearing showing he was earnestly looking for work. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s order, finding the job loss from COVID-19 was an involuntary job loss. In addition, because the father did, in fact, supply evidence that he was searching for work, the trial court erred in finding that he remained voluntarily unemployed.
Todisco highlights a number of important rules about child support obligations. Foremost, a child support obligation is a court order that remains in effect unless modified. Therefore, if a party suffers a change in their financial situation, such as a job loss, it is imperative to file a motion to modify the support as quickly as possible. Until the court modifies the support, the obligor must continue to pay the support amount. The obligor cannot unilaterally reduce their support payments absent court approval without running the risk of being held in contempt. Lastly, even if the job loss was involuntary (for example, a layoff due to COVID-19), the unemployed party must use their best efforts to find work.
If you are paying or receiving child support and have suffered a job loss due to the pandemic, it is important to speak with an attorney as soon as possible to determine how that job loss will impact the support obligations in your case.