The COVID-19 emergency that has gripped Virginia and the world has rippled through every part of our lives. If you pay either spousal support or child support in Virginia and have been affected by COVID-19, you should know about legal remedies that may help.
The Virginia Supreme Court’s original judicial emergency order has been extended, keeping most courts closed to most matters through at least June 7, 2020. The current, standing order reads in part,
2) Courts shall continue to prioritize emergency matters including, but not limited to,quarantine or isolation matters, … emergency child custody or protection cases, … petitions for appointment of a guardian or conservator, and proceedings necessary to safeguard applicable constitutional protections.
3) Courts should continue to conduct as much business as possible by means other than in-person court proceedings. In all civil and criminal matters, courts are encouraged to continue and even increase the use of video conferencing, telephone, teleconferencing, email, or other means that do not involve in-person contact. These methods are preferred over in-person court proceedings.
In other words, you will not soon have your “day in court” for motions to modify spousal or child support, but you could have a Zoom meeting. First contact your family law attorney who handled your original legal matter (that resulted in either spousal or child support). Your attorney is in a far better position than you to know what is and is not possible in seeking a modification.
In Virginia, under Code of Virginia, if you and your ex-spouse signed off on an agreement before July 1, 2018 (without benefit of a judge’s decree), you cannot modify the agreement. Also, if wording in the agreement states it cannot be modified, then, well, it cannot be modified.
For every other spousal support agreement — those written after July 1, 2018, not containing language specifically barring modification, and those set down by a Virginia judge — the spousal support agreement can be modified. You may be comforted to know that right is ensconced in Virginia Code § 20-109, entitled,
Changing maintenance and support for a spouse; effect of stipulations as to maintenance and support for a spouse; cessation upon cohabitation, remarriage, or death; effect of retirement.
Honestly, we sense a hit for Maren Morris in there. With that catchy title, the song lyrics practically write themselves.
Anyway, you can have your attorney file for a motion to reduce spousal support due to “a material change in the circumstances,” as the law says. You cannot deliberately reduce your income, but if you have been affected by reduced pay or termination due to COVID-19, contact your family law attorney immediately.
Why immediately? You are obligated to pay until the court provides relief, so thinking that you get an automatic “bye” could get you into trouble. In addition to contacting your lawyer, also contact your ex-spouse to explain the situation. COVID-19 is certainly a cause beyond anyone’s willful control, so if she is even marginally reasonable, communicate clearly with her that you simply cannot afford to continue paying according to the court order.
The other aspect of reduced income due to COVID-19 is child support. You do not want to short-change your children, surely, but if you have wages reduced or you lost your job in the midst of this pandemic, you may not be able to meet your financial obligation to them with monthly child support payments.
You probably feel bad about being unable to help them, but you need financial relief. Contact your lawyer, because under Code of Virginia § 20-108 you can have your attorney petition the court for relief:
which petition shall set forth the reasons for the relief sought, revise and alter such decree concerning the care, custody, and maintenance of the children and make a new decree concerning the same, as the circumstances of the parents and the benefit of the children may require.
Bear in mind, though, Virginia cares far more about the best interest of the child and far less about your own temporary financial setback. Even incarcerated Dads are expected to continue paying child support (Dads with $0 income are required to cough up $68/month for one child).
While the motion may face some resistance, you can increase your odds of winning a reduction in child support payments by having all your paperwork in order, talking to the children’s mother, and providing good-faith evidence that you have trimmed all your other expenses to the bone. Even a temporary reduction may help you.
At The Firm For Men we have answers to easy questions and tough questions. We can help you with perplexing problems related to spousal support, child support, and much more. Contact us today, or telephone our office at (757) 383-9184.