With the COVID-19 pandemic rocking our work, personal, social and personal lives at a rapid pace, many families are grappling with unprecedented financial uncertainty and insecurity. This can be even more intimidating and confusing for divorced and separated families when there are frequent judicial or contractual legal obligations that are called into question after these turbulent financial times.
As a recipient of financial contributions related to a divorce or liquidation, it can be daunting to worry about whether your ex-spouse or ex-partner can continue to meet these obligations. These obligations include child support, child support, or other financial contributions to your family such as B. Payments for tuition fees or health insurance premiums. Clearly, people rely on these contributions to meet their needs and the needs of their families, so it is understandable to have the assurance that these contributions will continue to exist.
At the same time, a person legally required to pay money to an ex-spouse or ex-partner may see their discretionary income decline as a direct result of the COVID-19 crisis. In both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, governments have ceased or severely restricted almost all non-essential business practices and withdrawn much of the working class through no fault of their own. Many people have made wage cuts, work less, are forced to use the power take-off or sick leave, or in the worst case have stopped working without pay. In this case, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to cover all expenses in full and on time, including expenses such as child support or child support. Many people face the difficult decision of which bills to pay with a limited amount of cash: will I pay my mortgage in full and reduce my child benefit? Do I pay for health insurance and skip my alimony? Should I stop paying my ex until this is over? Can I just distance myself socially and hope that all of this will go away on its own?
These questions are valid, and there are equally compelling arguments on both sides for how these issues should be addressed. People in need of support from an ex want (and need) to get paid, and people who are required to support an ex may not have the funds available.
When you find yourself on both sides of this equation, it’s important to address the situation early on before it gets out of hand. While the rush to litigate may seem premature or perhaps not cost-effective, you don’t want to ignore the situation or indulge in self-help mechanisms that do more harm than good. Below are some options for dealing with financial complications or disputes with your ex-spouse or ex-partner caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
A good place to start is opening up lines of communication with your ex-spouse or ex-partner. Transparency and honesty go a long way towards understanding the situation from both sides. If you and your ex are able to reach a temporary agreement on continued (but possibly reduced) financial assistance in the short term, you should consult an attorney who can codify that agreement into an appropriate legal document. This way, you and your ex can reach an amicable settlement without judicial intervention, saving you time and money while also ensuring that your agreement is legally enforceable in the event that problems arise in the future.
If you and your ex-spouse or ex-partner are not in regular contact, have a bitter relationship, or just cannot agree on a solution, it may be time to seek advice from a lawyer. Your lawyer can suggest tentative financial arrangements that can be presented to your ex in hopes of reaching an agreement. Sometimes a little nudge from an attorney is enough to force both sides to seek solutions to situations that arise. If this is successful, the agreement is summarized in a legal document and made binding.
If all else fails and you and your ex-spouse or ex-partner cannot reach an agreement even with the assistance of lawyers, a lawsuit may need to be initiated. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, most courts are trying to operate as close to “normal” as possible to ensure people continue to have access to legal proceedings when needed. The family courts are able to receive filings electronically and to schedule court appearances by telephone and video conference.
Both New Jersey and Pennsylvania have laws that allow a person to request a change in their child support or child support if that person’s financial situation has changed. Loss of income or cash flow due to COVID-19 could be viewed as a material, involuntary, and unforeseen change that would warrant the court to assess the situation to determine whether appropriate relief should be provided. Because the COVID-19 situation is unique in terms of its widespread financial impact on families in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, there are few high-level guidelines to help us understand how the courts respond to petitions related to alimony could react. However, the following are some possible outcomes that could result from such litigation:
- The court could grant a temporary cut in a debtor’s alimony and child support payments, with a mandatory reassessment in one to two months. At that point, the support numbers could be increased back to their original amounts.
- The court could keep child alimony and child alimony the same, but stop enforcement and debt collection efforts. Any defaults in payment would still be considered “arrears” and the debtor would be required to repay those arrears at a later date. This would essentially allow the debtor to pay less for its obligations during the financial crisis while ensuring that the recipient of the assistance is definitively complete at some point in the future.
- The court could seek alternative funding for both parties and review each party’s access to alternative sources of cash. This may include investigation of lines of credit, loans for retirement assets, trust distributions, inheritance advances, or reliefs for one or both parties under federal law on CARES. Although each family’s situation will be unique, it is to be hoped that the courts will examine all possible ways to get people through these troubled times.
These are scary situations that many people in our community are currently facing, and it is perfectly understandable to worry about your family being financially secure while managing your family’s physical and emotional well-being, as well as your own well-being . If you find that your legal rights or obligations as a result of a divorce or dissolution have been negatively affected by COVID-19, you should contact an attorney today. Through diligence, advocacy, and creativity, it is possible to develop a plan to help you and your family navigate these uncertain times, with an emphasis on positive and fair outcomes.