CHILD SUPPORT, ALIMONY AND COVID-19
I am getting many phone calls asking about the impact of current job loss, furlough, or reduction on child support and alimony payments. The calls come in from both the person paying, and the person receiving, the support payments. This is another casualty of the current pandemic we are all living through. People who live in Connecticut are getting laid off, furloughed, or having their work hours drastically reduced. Since I serve people who live primarily in Fairfield County, the hardest hit Connecticut county, my clients are also oftentimes commuters who work in New York City which is even in worse shape.
This is another horrible consequence of this virus. People who are already frightened and struggling now need to worry about paying their court ordered support, or receiving their support. Well, they say knowledge is power, and that it can remove some of the fear, so here is what the law says in Connecticut.
The law governing modification of child support and alimony is Section 46b-86 of the Connecticut General Statutes. The only requirement to seek a modification of a modifiable support order is a substantial change in circumstances. Loss of employment, an employment furlough, or a reduction in hours are all valid reasons to seek a modification if any of them result in reduced earnings. As of this writing there is no exception to this standard due to COVID-19 being the cause of the income reduction, nor is there any stimulus or aid directly impacting this specific situation. Of course, any financial aid that a person paying, or receiving, child support or alimony begins receiving would be considered as available income and therefore indirectly part of the support calculation and whether there has been a substantial change in circumstances.
So, the legal answer is that a person paying alimony or child support would likely be found to have a substantial change in circumstances if one of the above situation exists that impacted their current income level unless the reduction was caused voluntarily. In order to begin the process a motion to modify must be filed with the court. After it is filed the court then fills in a hearing date and gives the motion back to the pro se party or the attorney who then must serve the the motion on the party receiving the child support and/or alimony. It is that date, when the other party is served the paperwork by proper service, the court can use as the "retroactivity" date for modification of the existing court ordered support payment. "Retroactivity" means the date the court can use as the start date of the modified support amount even if the actual hearing on the modification does not take place until sometime in the future. Payments made during that time between service of the motion and the hearing, if greater, will be used as a full, or partial, offset to support payments going forward.
However, the issue may be more of a practical one than a legal one. Here is the practical problem. The Judicial Branch closed the courthouses to all but a very limited type of case, and motions for modification of support are not one of them. To further complicate an already complicated situation the courthouses in Stamford, Danbury, and Norwalk are now closed and all matters in those jurisdictions are being funneled through the courthouses in Bridgeport and Waterbury. The best advice I can give people is to have the Motion for Modification filed if you need one and hope there is some fair resolution as to both sides once the issue is formally addressed by the judicial branch. Perhaps filing the Motion will have some impact, but there is no guarantee, or even likelihood, I can offer based on what is known at this moment. I simply don't know when this situation will change.
There are going to be people who simply can’t afford to keep paying the current support amount, and people who are going to be badly hurt if they stop getting them. If you would like to discuss either of these issues and the potential risks you may face, or remedies you may have, please give me a call at Bayer & Black, P.C., 203-529-6897.