The coronavirus pandemic has left many American families struggling to pay their bills with no end in sight. November jobs report numbers are not encouraging. The number of Americans who remain unemployed for over 27 weeks increased by 385,000 in November. Since September, long-term unemployment has risen by 1.5 million people, a 64% increase. Our economic crunch has affected millions of Americans, including co-parents who pay and receive child support.
Those parents who are still working may be anxious about whether they will also be laid off. Many employers have begun cutting their employees’ hours or salaries to make ends meet. Other parents who have been laid off are spending most of their time seeking to obtain federal and state benefits to which they may be entitled. Parents responsible for paying child support are often worried about their continuing ability to do so. Many parents who receive child support payments have come to depend on these payments more than ever. The coronavirus pandemic has caused co-parents unique challenges that can be difficult to navigate.
Parents who have lost their jobs or experienced a decrease in pay may not be able to continue making child support payments at the amount set forth by the family court. However, they are still obligated under North Carolina law to pay court-ordered child support. Parents cannot stop paying child support because they lost their job. Instead, the parent responsible for paying child support must seek relief through the court. He or she can file a petition to modify the child support agreement in a North Carolina family court.
While waiting for the court to rule on your child support modification petition, you should try to continue paying your child support obligations. The farther behind you become, the more difficult it will be to catch up on payments. While you continue to pay child support to the extent that you can, begin to collect and maintain all of the documentation that shows your change in employment circumstances. For example, if you have been laid off, gather documentation stating that you are no longer employed.
If your hours have been reduced or your pay rate has been reduced, gather evidence of your pay stubs to show the decrease in income. If you qualify for any type of government relief, such as unemployment benefits, be sure that you begin the application process. Most Family Court judges will inquire whether you have done everything possible to mitigate your job loss or wage loss to continue meeting your child support obligations.
If you are not receiving court-ordered child support, you can petition the court to enforce your child support order. Unfortunately, North Carolina courts are still backed up due to coronavirus related shutdowns. If you are a parent who is not receiving child support that you need to provide basic needs for your children, you should speak with a lawyer as soon as possible. Your lawyer will be able to advocate for your rights and help you enforce your child support petition.
In the meantime, you can gather the documentation you need to prove that your spouse has not been paying the court-ordered child support. Keep track of all of the overdue funds as well as any receipts and documentation that show how much child support you are owed under your court’s current order. For example, if your co-parent is required to pay for half of your children’s daycare expenses and has not done so, keep the receipts showing that you paid the expense. You can use this documentation in your content or enforcement action to recover past child support payments.
If you have an open line of communication with your co-parent, you may want to consider alternative dispute resolution and negotiation. Parents who are resolving child support issues have begun using direct negotiation and alternative dispute resolution processes to resolve differences. Multiple benefits come with negotiating your child support obligations outside of the court system.
Your lawyer will be able to help you negotiate a solution that addresses your needs. For example, you might be able to negotiate an agreement in which you and your co-parent acknowledge that the economic emergency you face is temporary. You can review both of your current finances and allow for a temporary monthly payment that includes adjustments for current child care costs and other expenses. As part of the agreement, you could agree to switch back to the current child support order and enforce any arrears three months from now.
Any temporary agreements that you negotiate with your lawyer’s help should consider the benefits available to both parents. For example, if the parent has been laid off is entitled to unemployment insurance, the temporary child support payments should take those benefits into account. Likewise, if you no longer need to use childcare and your children can stay at home with one spouse while he or she works, you should consider the reduction in child care costs when making a temporary agreement.
Negotiating a temporary child support agreement will seem feasible and straightforward for some co-parents. For other co-parents, negotiating an interim agreement will be difficult, if not impossible, due to ongoing conflict. Whatever your situation, working with an experienced North Carolina family lawyer can help you achieve a solution.
The understanding and skilled family lawyers at Gailor Hunt Davis Taylor & Gibbs, PLLC have helped many clients successfully handle child support issues during these unprecedented times. Contact us today to schedule an appointment and learn how we can help you navigate the child support issues you are facing.