Playing Nicely about Child Support Saves Legal Costs
Since Covid hit, your industry has taken a downturn and now child support payments are too high. If your spouse is sympathetic, you can simply enter into a new child and spousal support agreement to reflect your actual income, since your support obligation is no longer realistic under these changed circumstances. To save yourself future grief, you will want to agree to provisions to re-adjust child and spousal support when your financial situation improves. This new arrangement does not need to be formalized into a court order so long as both parties agree, although it is helpful if it is confirmed in writing. An email exchange is usually sufficient. If your former spouse has registered you in the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (“FMEP”), your FMEP enforcement officer will receive instructions from your former spouse and adjust your child support obligations to adhere to this new agreement without the need for a further court order.
The FMEP Child Support Shakedown
In my experience, ex-spouses receiving support will often claim that varying support is outside their control. They will say that FMEP cannot change your support obligation without a new court order. This is not true. FMEP takes instructions from the recipient of support. In other words, if your spouse instructs FMEP to adjust your support obligations, FMEP will follow the instructions, court order or no.
Playing Not – So – Nice
After trying and failing to reach an agreement, the onus will be on you to apply to vary your court order so that it reflects your current financial situation. It’s best to do this earlier rather than later. Your claim will be based on a “material change in circumstances” because when the Court pronounced your previous child/spousal support order it was based on your then-income, and your financial downturn due to Covid-19 could not have been predicted. Now that you earn substantially less due to unanticipated circumstances that are obviously beyond your control, it would be unfair to have you continue to pay support on income you no longer earn.
Weighing the Pros and Cons
You now have some calculations to make about how long your industry will be affected by the pandemic, how much you’re paying, how much of a “cushion” you have and how much it will cost to argue this in court. There are other variables to consider here as well, such as whether your ex-spouse has also experienced the effects of an economic downturn, and whether you believe court action might ignite other disputes that had long gone dormant. I’m happy to walk you through the pros and cons of the decision, and can even provide advice for you to represent yourself.