I lost my job due to the pandemic and already owe child support arrears. I know I can modify my child support order for payments moving forward, but can I have those arrears paused during this time?
I do not practice law in your state. Therefore, I cannot inform you as to the specific laws of your state, but I can provide you with general tips for this sort of issue.
I am licensed to practice law in Tennessee, and each state jurisdiction has varying child support laws and regulations. You should consult with an attorney licensed to practice law in your state for a comprehensive analysis of your specific circumstances.
In Tennessee and most other jurisdictions, the answer to your question generally is going to be no. In Tennessee, your child support obligation will begin on the date indicated on the initial child support court order, and the child support obligation will remain in full force and effect unless it is modified or terminated by a subsequent court order signed by a judge.
In other words, any informal agreement to modify or pause a child support obligation, be it verbal or written, will not be honored by the court. A formal child support order signed by a judge is required to modify, suspend, or terminate your child support obligation.
That said, there is good news. In many jurisdictions, when you file a petition to modify child support, your child support obligation is modifiable beginning the date you file.
For example, if your obligation was $500.00 a month when you filed the petition to modify child support and three months later, the court reduces the obligations to $300.00 a month, the court may award you a credit of $600.00 to make up for the three months of overpayment.
Keep in mind that awarding retroactive credit is at the judge’s discretion, but in most cases, judges do make the modification retroactive to the date the obligor parent files.
If you cannot wait a period of months for your obligations to decrease, you also may be able to file a motion to suspend child support, while your overall child support modification case is pending before the court. Judges are reluctant to modify or suspend child support on a temporary basis, but in emergency situations, it may be possible.
Lastly, please be reminded that failure to pay child support may result in the opposing party filing a petition for contempt against you. In most cases, it is helpful to file a petition to modify child support either prior to any potential contempt action being filed or immediately after a contempt action is filed.
Filing indicates to the court that you are asserting that you no longer have the ability to pay the ongoing child support obligation, which will correspond with any defense you offer in the contempt matter. In other words, if a parent falls behind on their child support obligation, the courts generally do not favor that parent if they sit on their hands, rather than assert a change in ability to pay by filing a petition to modify child support.
Again, please keep in mind that every state is different, and it is important to consult an attorney in your state to determine the best path forward in modifying, pausing, or terminating your child support obligation. Our firm is scheduling virtual and phone consultations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
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.