Alimony and Child Support Modifications During COVID-19
Apr 10 2020
By: John Drapp
The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in this country has had far-ranging consequences touching upon just about every aspect of our lives. Unfortunately, it seems that these consequences will continue well into the future even after we get back to “normal”- whatever that may be once this is all over.
During this crisis, the most frequently asked question that I’ve been answering in the area of family law is whether the pandemic is a justification for modifying alimony or child support orders. Although COVID-19 is not a justification for a modification in and of itself, the financial effects of the pandemic could very well be a justification.
Connecticut law provides that unless a decree in some way precludes modification, orders regarding alimony and child support, whether temporary or final, are modifiable if there is a substantial change in circumstances. Although the question of whether a change in circumstances is “substantial” is something that is often argued about in court, it’s probably a safe bet that if you’ve suffered an involuntary job loss or a reduction in your hours as a result of the pandemic, you would meet the substantial change in circumstances requirement needed to seek a modification. This could apply to your situation not only if you are the one paying alimony or child support, but also if you are the one receiving it.
One of the most significant and devastating impacts of COVID-19 is the closure of many businesses deemed non-essential in response to the governor’s executive orders. As a result of these business closures, Connecticut has seen new records set for job losses, layoffs and furloughs. This, in turn, has led to a record-number of unemployment claims – so many, in fact, that claimants have been told to expect significant delays in the time it takes to process a claim. In addition, many small business owners are also suffering from a significant loss of income because their business revenue has dropped dramatically. Many of these job losses will be permanent. So will many of the business closures. And the sad reality is that the longer this goes on, the number of permanent job losses and business closures will continue to grow.
If you have been impacted by a job loss or business closure brought on by the response to COVID-19, you may want to consider seeking a modification of your existing alimony or child support orders. Again, this is true whether you pay the alimony or child support, or receive it. A word of caution though: it is completely unknown at this point how the courts will handle these types of modifications since the economic consequences of the pandemic will affect virtually everyone. For example, if you have lost your job and want to seek a downward modification of alimony, but your ex-spouse has also suffered a job loss, what is the likely result? Frankly, I have no idea as of the time that I am writing this article.
Making things more complicated is the current operational capacity of the Connecticut courts. Prior to the pandemic, there were thirty-four operational courthouses in Connecticut that handled cases in Superior Court. Over the course of the last several weeks, that number has been reduced to eight as of this writing with many courts having their business transferred to other judicial districts. The courts that are still open are only operating on Mondays from 9 am to 5 pm, and on Wednesdays and Fridays from 9 am to 1 pm. Even when open, entry into these facilities is only permitted for people filing or participating in hearings on level one matters, which are the only matters that the courts are hearing right now. Level one matters include domestic violence arraignments, arraignments for people arrested that have not been able to post bail, restraining orders, and emergency ex parte custody motions.
Although the question of when you might get into court to address a motion to modify alimony or child support is impossible to answer right now, what is clear is that you should go ahead and start the process. This is for two reasons.
First, if a motion seeking a modification of alimony or child support is ultimately granted, the modification may be given retroactive application back to the date that the motion was served on the other side. Since it’s quite possible at this point that a motion to modify may not actually be heard in court for several months, it is important to preserve the possibility of the modification having retroactive application to the earliest possible date.
Second, although it’s hard to tell, it’s likely that once the courts are fully operational again, there will probably be a substantial backlog not only due to new filings, but also because many matters that were scheduled for March, April and even May have been cancelled and will have to be rescheduled at some point.
There is some good news though. The court clerks have been instructed by Judicial Branch administration to assign hearing dates on orders to show cause (the formal name for the part of a post-judgment motion to modify that sets a hearing date) and return the papers to the person that filed them for service on the other party. Once a motion for modification is served, you will have done everything you can do to maximize the period of time for which any modification order may be given retroactive application.
If your case is electronic (noted by an “e” before the docket number if you look your case up here) and you have an attorney or are registered for e-services yourself, you can file a motion for modification without ever going to the courthouse. If your case is not electronic and the motion has to be filed on paper, you should contact the clerk’s office first to find out the best way to do it. Depending on which courthouse your case was handled at, you may need to contact a different clerk’s office. As of this writing, the Bridgeport Courthouse is handling cases from the Stamford and Milford Courthouses; the Waterbury Courthouse is handling cases from the Danbury and Litchfield (Torrington) Courthouses; the New Britain Courthouse is handling cases from the Middletown Courthouse; the Hartford Courthouse is handling cases from the Rockville Courthouse; the New Haven Courthouse is handling cases from the Meriden Courthouse; and the New London Courthouse is handling cases from the Putnam and Norwich Courthouses.
These are definitely challenging and unprecedented times. But we will get through it. If you have any questions, please contact us.
As always, this information is provided for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. This information is also subject to the terms of our disclaimer.
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