The sudden and unexpected severity of the Coronavirus Pandemic has shaken the financial stability of American families. There has been an unprecedented number of people who have suddenly become unemployed, furloughed, or forced to take pay cuts. In the last four weeks alone, more than 22 million people have filed for unemployment aid. And according to Moody Analytics, 45 million U.S. jobs could be in jeopardy. Most people are actively seeking ways to lessen their financial burden by cutting monthly expenses and tightening their budgets. It comes as no surprise that many of my clients have asked me how they can lower their monthly child support and maintenance payments. This historic moment calls for a brief review of the basics.
Eligibility for Modification
If you find yourself suffering financially due to the economic depression, you may be entitled to a reduction of your child support and/or maintenance obligations. The standard the court employs to make this determination is whether the parent seeking modification can establish a material or substantial change in circumstances. Here in Illinois, a significant financial change of circumstances is typically viewed as a 20% change in your gross income, but possibly less for lower-income earners.
In order to bring your issue to the court’s attention, the following steps must be taken: (1) complete a financial affidavit setting forth your new income and expenses and (2) file a petition to modify the existing support obligation. The petition must set forth that your change of circumstances is material, substantial, and continuing. Unemployment, changes in income, illness, physical or mental disability, old age, or other changes in circumstances may be sufficient reasons for the reduction of your child support and/or maintenance obligations. Additionally, the emancipation of a child is also a valid reason to reduce or even terminate your child support obligation.
Take Action Now
If you think a substantial change in your circumstances has occurred, now is the time to act. You should not be obligated to pay more than you are capable of paying or formulaically obligated to pay. However, the onus is on you to recognize possible entitlement to a reduction, and you must be the one to take the necessary affirmative steps to obtain it. Furthermore, if you successfully reduce your obligation, the burden shifts to your ex-spouse/partner to come back and seek an increase when the economy improves.
It is best to consult with a lawyer to help with the child support and/or maintenance modification process, which is generally cumbersome for those opting to go it without counsel, especially with the temporary changes to how we access the courts. I’m available to walk you through the process and the current pandemic is NOT an obstacle to obtaining relief.
If you would like to discuss a potential modification or have any questions, concerns, or just need a court update, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-621-1216). My team and our office, Beermann LLP, remain open and fully operational and are available to support you and your family.
Thomas T. Field, Divorce and Family Law Partner – Head of the Family Law Group