I lost my job due to the pandemic and already owe child support arrears. I know I can modify my child support order for payments moving forward but can I have those arrears paused during this time?
I do not practice law in your state. Therefore, I cannot inform you as to the specific laws of your state, but I can provide you with general tips for this sort of issue.
You are correct regarding the fact that you can request a modification of your support payments moving forward. However, I do believe it is important that you are aware that, unfortunately, although a reduction in income is considered a change in circumstance, the court may not modify the amount or duration of support if it appears that the change in circumstance is considered temporary.
For example, there is case law that states that a 20-month reduction in income only was temporary, therefore a reduction in child support was not warranted. Further, the family court generally will not modify a support order, including pausing arrears, even during a modification time.
Additionally, the court puts the burden on the person requesting a change to notify the court of any change which could impact support. As such, the court will not know you have lost your employment until you file your modification petition. Therefore, your arrears balance will continue to accrue at the current level unless and until a modification is filed and granted, and I would recommend you file to modify your support as soon as possible.
However, if payment will become an issue for you, I would suggest contacting the enforcement unit and advising them of the change in your circumstances. You need to see if they would stay an enforcement proceeding against you, until your employment and income return to pre-pandemic levels.
While arrears still will accrue on the original amount, if the enforcement department is willing to stay any enforcement proceedings, this should mitigate any other actions against you, such as lack of payment being reported to credit agencies or incarceration for lack of payment.
However, please note this completely is within the discretion of the court, so I cannot guarantee that enforcement will not be sought against you. Also, I would strongly suggest that if you are able, you continue to pay the alimony at the level awarded, so you ensure that no enforcement proceedings are initiated.
Another alternative is to attempt to privately negotiate a temporary reduction in your arrears. If you and the opposing party can come to a private agreement, a stipulation, preferably prepared by an attorney, can be submitted to the court encapsulated the terms of the temporary agreement. Any stipulation modifying support/suspending arrears must be filed with the court. Otherwise, the original support order will continue to be in full force and effect, and the court will not know that the terms have been modified.