With or without a global pandemic, a parent or ex-spouse forced to pay spousal or child support outside of their means is not living financially sustainably. With such a high financial burden often placed on the husband and father, they are left looking for solutions over time.
Modification of spousal and child support does not mean that you no longer love your children or want to financially assist your ex-spouse in their recovery.
It means that your ex-spouse’s circumstances may have changed and now they are receiving financial assistance elsewhere. It means that the burden may be so substantial that you cannot be an effective parent living in poverty. It means that your children may have grown up and no longer require the financial support that they once did.
Pursuing modification is a step in financial responsibility in a post-divorce life. It should not be a stigmatized event that devalues the financial obligations toward an ex-spouse or children, but rather an event with goals and a realistic financial outlook in mind.
Understanding spousal support
Cordell & Cordell CEO, Managing/Executive Partner Scott Trout hosted a Virtual Town Hall with a panel of family law attorneys from across the United States, discussing the modification of spousal and child support.
Spousal support, also referred to as alimony or maintenance, is determined by designated factors during the divorce process that the court considers. These include, but are not limited to, based on state regulations:
- Length of marriage
- Age and health of the parties
- Division of property
- Education level of each party at the time of the marriage and at the time the action is commenced
- Earning capacity of the parties
- Feasibility that the party seeking alimony can become self-supporting at the standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage and at the time needed to achieve this goal
- Tax consequences to the parties
- Pre-marital and post-marital agreements
- Contribution of one party to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other
Modifying or abating spousal support
Through the assistance of a family law attorney, a payor either can file for modification or abatement, depending on the circumstances of the individual case. These two concepts can cause confusion for clients, looking for financial relief.
“An abatement would simply be a pause of spousal support or alimony during a certain period of time,” Cordell & Cordell Litigation Attorney Giana Messore said. “Modification would be changing your spousal support obligation, because there has been a certain change or life event.”
With the country still dealing with COVID-19, the unemployment rate is at 11.1 percent. For payors who may be dealing with reduced hours or a job loss of their own, modification or abatement may be the only way of stabilizing their finances. However, this may be dependent on how the obligation was created.
“It really does depend on whether you agreed to spousal support, or if the court order it,” Ms. Messore said. “Whether you can modify it depends on that scenario, but we would want to file it immediately, regardless of that. Then, we would make that argument.”
“It wouldn’t be easier to modify the spousal support if the court ordered it than if you just agreed to it, but even if you agreed to the spousal support, you could still have some remedies available to you. We also might just ask the court not to enforce the order because it is not fair, due to whatever situation may be going on.”
Navigating child support modification
Similar to spousal support, significant child support obligations can place a burden on the paying parent, especially if you are dealing with unemployment or a furlough. Depending on your state, taking action and filing for modification means sooner results and a more stable financial outlook for the paying parent.
“In the state of Florida, the process of modification is much simpler than the divorce process,” Cordell & Cordell Litigation Attorney Enrico Zanella said. “It’s much simpler than a post-modification of alimony or time-sharing process. It’s very straight-forward, but you need to file quickly.”
“The court, often times, will not go back to the date, in which you lost your employment or the point where your employment was lessened. It will go back to the date of filing.”
Many facing these dire financial circumstances do not act and file in urgency when problems present themselves. By the time the situation becomes drastically untenable with their finances, the situation already is at a critical point.
For many reaching this point, they no longer may be paying their obligation, causing legal action to occur by your co-parent.
“Waiting two or three months could cause your ex-spouse to file for contempt against you,” Mr. Zanella said. “The judge is going to say ‘Why didn’t you file earlier? You knew about this. You failed to pay it, and you should have sought remedy immediately.’”
This type of inaction can expose the payor to additional fees and penalties, making a poor financial situation even worse.
In order to avoid these types of circumstances, it is imperative that you contact your family law attorney and seek appropriate action, in modifying your spousal or child support obligations.
Dan Pearce is an Online Editor for Lexicon, focusing on subjects related to the legal services of customers, Cordell & Cordell and Cordell Planning Partners. He has written countless pieces on MensDivorce.com, detailing the plight of men and fathers going through the divorce experience, as well as the issues seniors and their families experience throughout the estate planning journey on ElderCareLaw.com. Mr. Pearce has managed websites and helped create content, such as the Men’s Divorce Newsletter and the YouTube series, “Men’s Divorce Countdown.” He also has been a contributor on both the Men’s Divorce Podcast and ElderTalk with TuckerAllen.
Mr. Pearce assisted in fostering a Cordell Planning Partners practice area specific for Veterans, as they deal with the intricacies of their benefits while planning for the future. He also helped create the Cordell Planning Partners Resource Guide and the Cordell Planning Partners Guide to Alternative Residence Options, specific for seniors with questions regarding their needs and living arrangements.
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