By: Robert B. George, Esquire
The current COVID -19 pandemic is sending the world into a state of panic and distress, with Pennsylvania being among one of the many States that have mandated Stay-at-Home Orders and the shutting down of all non-essential businesses. As a result, many individuals within Pennsylvania, as well as across the United States, currently find or may soon find themselves unemployed due to the shutdown of businesses, as States attempt to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus. This situation may be of particular concern to individuals with existing child support orders who may now find themselves without income necessary to meet this ongoing monthly financial obligation and whom are now concerned as to what, if anything, they can do in response.
If you should find yourself in such a situation, it is important to understand that the proper procedure by which to seek relief, is a Petition to modify or temporarily suspend the existing support obligation. Although such a Petition may not be heard in the usual course right now, it will serve to both preserve your rights for future consideration as well as help to protect you from possible contempt of court when the current COVID-19 crisis is over. In that regard, if the party to whom the support obligation is owed files for contempt against you for not paying your child support obligation, the Court should give due consideration to the fact that you have taken affirmative and appropriate steps to obtain relief from the support Order. A parent who loses a job under ordinary circumstances must demonstrate that it is not solely a short-term loss in order for their child support obligation to be modified. Additionally, evidence of appropriate and diligent efforts to secure new employment is also usually required. However, the court may be less likely to require such evidence, given the unique and unprecedented effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, as a result of which alternative employment is not feasible. Some courts believe that child support may be tolled, meaning it is on hold. Importantly, however, this does not mean that you do not owe the underlying support obligation; it merely means that if you cannot pay due to the crisis, you may be found to be in contempt. On the other hand, if you have the income and are not paying, you will still be liable for the underlying support obligation, and the courts will likely hold you in contempt.
It is highly recommended that your first course of action, should be to reach out to the other party about your current financial situation and concerns, and attempt to reach an agreement, even if only temporary, such as reducing or suspending the existing support obligation until we are beyond the current crisis. It is further recommended that you both document any such communications, and, if such an agreement can be reached, to have it memorized in writing by a family law attorney, and filed of record with the Court, you do not simply ignore the situation but, instead, be proactive at this time to address the situation with the other Party initially, as remember, you should not ignore the problem, and if necessary, proceed to request that the Court modify and/or temporarily suspend your existing support obligation.
If you have a concern regarding paying your child support due to a loss or reduction of income because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that you consult with an attorney that has experience with such matters.
The attorneys at The Law Firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP are experienced and available to help you. Contact Robert B. George, Esquire at 610-565-5700, or send him an e-mail at [email protected]
The Law Firm of DiOrio & Sereni, LLP is a full-service law firm in Media, Delaware County, Pennsylvania. We strive to help people, businesses and institutions throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania solve legal problems – and even prevent legal problems before they occur. To learn more about the full range of our specific practice areas, please visit www.dioriosereni.com or contact Robert B. George, Esquire at 610-565-5700 or at [email protected].
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