What To Do If You Can’t Pay Your Child Support During the Coronavirus Crisis

April 14, 2020
By Clifford Petroske

With all non-essential businesses in New York ordered to close their doors to help contain the coronavirus, many parents have lost their jobs or suffered a substantial decrease in income.  If you are unable to pay your child support obligation, there are a number of steps you should take immediately to keep a bad situation from becoming worse.

1. File a Petition in Court: You should file a court petition to reduce your child support as soon as possible.  Otherwise, the law will hold you to the full court-ordered obligation, even if there is no practical way you could possibly pay your child support after losing your job.  If you are successful in proving your case, the reduction of your support obligation will be retroactive, but only to the date you filed in Court — there is no going back any earlier.  You could end up owing thousands of dollars in arrears that could have been avoided if you had just filed a petition sooner.

Although the coronavirus pandemic has closed New York courts to everything except “essential matters” and emergencies, the Family Court clerk is accepting petitions for filing.  Those petitions are being given appearance dates in May or June, 2020, when the Court expects to re-open.

2. Gather Evidence to Prove Your Case:  It’s a mistake to assume that the Court will simply grant a downward modification of support because you are out of work.  This is a common misconception owing, in part, to the 2010 amendments to the Child Support Standards Act (CSSA) which state that support can be modified after three years or if there is at least a 15% change in income since the existing order.

It is not that simple.  In order to reduce a child support obligation, the Court will require not just proof of income loss, but also proof of reduced earning capacity. This means that you will have to show that you diligently tried to become re-employed after losing your job.  The sooner this begins, the more extensive the search will appear to be, making the proof of reduced earning capacity more persuasive.

3. Pay What You Can:  Continue paying something towards your child support obligation, even if you cannot afford to pay the entire amount.  Although your income may be limited to unemployment benefits and you may have trouble paying your own bills, the Court will not eliminate your child support obligation entirely.

So, even after you file a downward modification proceeding (and until you can) do your best to pay what you can, to minimize the amount of arrears you are ultimately ordered to pay later, and to demonstrate to the judge deciding your case that you made a good faith effort to support your child financially, even during tough times.

It is the job of the Court to best ensure that children are supported, so a case which cuts against that grain by seeking to lower support must be well presented, or it will lose.  The attorneys at Petroske Riezenman & Meyers are adept at negotiating and litigating support modification proceedings and can assist you with you seeking a reduction in your child support obligation.  Call us at 631-337-1977, email us, or contact us for a consultation.