The financial crisis experienced by many families in America is extreme-shut-downs, limited services, and even law firms, are suffering and unable to maintain their business infrastructure and revenue. Layoffs, if they have not happened yet, are all but promised. At this time, the shelter-in-place is extended almost weekly, and no one truly knows when, of even if, life will return to what we once knew.
Those with child support or modifiable spousal support obligations are surely concerned about paying bills while also obeying court orders for support payments. Adding fuel to the fire, Contra Costa County, as well as many Bay Area Counties, have moved into hearing only “emergency” requests, and the definition of “emergency” is not exactly clear.
Meanwhile, California has implemented some of the strictest shelter in place regulations in the nation-schools and most daycares are closed, and adequate childcare can be an issue, especially for essential workers. The luxury of having family at home to assist with childcare, home schooling, etc., is not something everyone enjoys. So what next?
Should you file a Request for Order to Modify Support?
The first stop is to review the local rules for the county your case is in, or in the county which would have jurisdiction over your case. Most, if not all, counties have implemented emergency COVID-19 local rules. You may reference COVID-19 resources on our website, www.mwlawca.com, or connect with us on Facebook, to review your county’s local rules. If support motions are permitted, and mostly they are, you may file for a modification; however, a court date may not be offered until your courthouse reopens for hearings, or until your county has a virtual hearing system in place.
California law permits the Court to have authority (often referred to as jurisdiction) to make support orders retroactively to the date the motion was filed. If you are the parent obligated to pay support (the payor), and you have a substantial change in circumstances (job loss, hour or salary reductions, etc.) you may file a Request for Order requesting a modification of the required support payment, while also asking for the Court to make the new order retroactive to the date the motion was filed. If you anticipate a substantial change in circumstances, you may draft your Request for Order in advance, so it is prepared and ready for filing if/when your income change occurs. This will help prevent any delay which can be caused by the drafting time. Job loss, reduction of hours or salary, would unquestionably be a basis to modify child support, especially if it was not due to any act by the payor. However, remember, a motion to modify support doesn’t excuse non-payment or otherwise order support while you await new orders.
On balance, if your childcare costs have increased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Request for Order is appropriate as well. Due to the court closures and the hearings on emergency matters, your case may not be heard quickly, but you will have preserved the retroactivity rights with the timely filing of your Request for Order. Remember, most orders are written with an equal responsibility to both parents to pay for childcare costs. Times are uncertain and unclear at this time. It is critical that you understand your court orders, and you act on them timely and appropriately. If you need further assistance in review, understanding, modifying or enforcing your court order, we can help. Stay healthy!