Many families in Northern Virginia are struggling with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Pew Research Center, “unemployment rose higher in three months of COVID-19 than it did in two years of the Great Recession.” Indeed, as a result of business closures due to the coronavirus emergency, more than 7 million people across the country became unemployed, resulting in a nationwide unemployment rate of more than 14 million. When it comes to Americans of certain racial, ethnic, and gender classifications, unemployment rates have risen more significantly as a result of the pandemic. All of this is to say that many Americans are struggling, and many Virginia parents are realizing that they cannot afford to make their child support payments.
Although many businesses in Manassas and Fairfax have reopened after stay-at-home orders led to state-wide quarantines and job losses, many businesses have not reopened to full capacity or simply have not reopened at all, leaving many unemployed parents without options for getting back to any kind of “new normal.” If you cannot pay child support due to COVID-19, the following are some important things to know.
Your Child Support Order is an Enforceable Court Order
Child support orders are not optional or informally modifiable, and it is important to understand clearly that these orders are enforceable court orders. Indeed, under Virginia law (Code of Va. § 20-108.2), parents are obligated to pay the amount of child support set out in their court order as determined by the guidelines. If you suddenly stop paying child support—even if it is because you cannot afford to do so—you can be subject to enforcement actions. Indeed, you can face a contempt of court action, the court can place a lien on your property, your wages can be garnished, your driver’s license could be suspended, and you could even face a warrant for your arrest.
Accordingly, you cannot just stop making payments. Instead, you will need to seek a modification of the existing child support order.
You May Be Able to Have Your Child Support Order Modified
There are a variety of reasons that a parent can ask to have a child support order changed or modified. According to the Office of Child Support Enforcement, any of the following are reasons to seek a modification in child support that the court may be able to grant:
- 36 months or more have passed since the child support order was reviewed for modification;
- Child is not longer eligible to receive support;
- Health care coverage costs must be reconsidered in relation to the child support obligation, including an increase or decrease in health care costs by 25 percent or more;
- Parent’s work-related child care expenses have increased or decreased (including because of the pandemic) by 25 percent or more; and
- Parent’s income has increased or decreased by at least 25 percent.
As you can see, even if you have not lost your job due to COVID but you have been forced to pay additional costs for child care while you are working a new job, you may still be able to have your child support order modified if those child care costs have increased by 25 percent or more. In addition, you should take note of the last bullet point above—if you have lost your job, or even if you lost your job and got a new lesser-paying job due to COVID-19, you can request a modification if your income has decreased by 25 percent or more.
Contact a Manassas Child Support Lawyer for Assistance
If you have questions about modifying child support due to COVID-19, you should get in touch with a Manassas child support attorney as soon as possible to learn more about your options. Contact Family Law Group today to speak with one of the dedicated Virginia family lawyers at our firm.