The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a significant toll. With over 200,000 dead from the virus in the United States, it has radically reshaped our society and likely will continue to do so for many years to come. The pandemic’s effects are not only health-related; however, the virus and its associated lockdowns have wreaked havoc on the economy, with an estimated 22.2 million jobs lost since the pandemic began. Although the COVID-19 virus itself has not affected alimony and child support payments, the economic woes it has created most assuredly have. With so many people unemployed, their ability to pay alimony and child support is in jeopardy. Read on for more information about paying alimony and child support during the COVID-19 pandemic from an Alpharetta family lawyer.
Establishment of Alimony During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Alimony is a court-ordered payment one spouse makes to the other spouse to help maintain that spouse’s marital standard of living after a divorce. It is generally awarded where there is a need by one spouse, and the other spouse has the ability to pay. When determining the amount of alimony to award, courts consider (in relevant part):
- The couple’s marital standard of living
- Both spouse’s financial resources
- The financial conditions of each spouse, including separate property, earning capacity, and separate debts
If one spouse’s financial resources take a significant hit — for example, as a result of a COVID-19-related layoff — his or her diminished earnings may warrant a lower alimony award, even if the couple’s marital standard of living was high.
Modification of Existing Alimony
If an individual is subject to an existing alimony order when he or she suffers a COVID-19-related job loss, modification may be available. Modification of an alimony order is available under two circumstances:
- There has been a change in the income and financial status of either spouse
- The voluntary cohabitation of a spouse with a third party
The judge in an alimony modification case has significant discretion to modify the order. Still, a substantial change in income from a COVID-19-related job loss likely would weigh heavily in favor of a modification.
Consequences of Not Paying Alimony
Failure to pay alimony can subject the non-paying spouse to a contempt citation, which can result in jail time. As such, individuals who have suffered COVID-19-related job losses should attempt to modify their alimony orders as soon as possible. However, please note that alimony modifications in Georgia do not have a retroactive effect, meaning that any alimony owed before the modification order must still be paid in full. If you are having trouble paying alimony due to job loss, please contact an Alpharetta family lawyer.
Calculation of Child Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic
When calculating the amount of child support the non-custodial parent must pay in a divorce, Georgia courts use a complex mathematical formula known as the Income Shares Model, which takes into account both parents’ income, the amount of parenting time each parent spends, work-related daycare costs, healthcare costs, and others. Generally, the outcome of that formula will determine how much each parent must pay in child support. However, the court is allowed to deviate from that number in several situations, including cases where the non-custodial parent has a low income. A parent may request a low-income deviation where:
- The non-custodial parent has no earning capacity or ability to earn income, or
- The non-custodial parent’s share of the child support would create an extreme economic hardship for that parent
If the non-custodial parent has suffered a COVID-19-related job loss and has a severely diminished income as a result, this may qualify for a low-income deviation — although the parent’s unemployment benefits will be considered income for child support purposes if he or she received them. However, in no circumstances may the amount of child support a non-custodial parent pays be less than $100 per month.
Modification of Child Support
Like alimony orders, child support orders may also be modified under certain circumstances. A court may modify a child support order where:
- There has been a substantial change in either parent’s income, or
- There has been a substantial change in the needs of the child
However, please note that a mere reduction in income is not enough to modify a child support order; the petitioner must show that his or her ability to pay the current amount of child support has changed. For example, consider a father who makes $150,000 a year and is obligated to pay $5,000 per month in child support. A reduction in the father’s salary to $140,000 likely would not be enough to warrant a child support modification, as a loss of such a small amount of income would not be considered “significant.” But if the father loses his job entirely — perhaps due to the COVID-19 pandemic — his ability to pay child support would be severely affected and may warrant a child support modification order.
Consequences of Not Paying Child Support
Nonpayment of child support in Georgia can result in various penalties, including contempt of court, loss of driver’s license, and the termination of parental rights (although termination of parental rights is reserved for extreme cases of “willful or wanton” nonpayment). Individuals who find themselves unable to pay child support due to a COVID-19-related job loss should thus petition the court for a modification as soon as possible to avoid undesired outcomes.
Contact an Alpharetta Family Lawyer for More Information About Alimony and Child Support Payments During the COVID-19 Pandemic
If you are struggling to make your required alimony or child support payments due to a COVID-19-related job loss, there are options available to you to help ease the strain without incurring legal penalties. For more information, please contact an Alpharetta family attorney at Hait & Kuhn by using our online form or calling us at either of our metro Atlanta locations: Alpharetta (770-517-0045) or Woodstock (678-888-0198).