The current coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis has resulted in self-employed individuals having no work to do; a rise in unemployment claims; pay cuts; termination and furlough. As part of a divorce case, a child custody case, a legal separation case, paternity case or other proceedings, a husband, wife, parent or other person may be court-ordered to pay child support and/or maintenance. People who are paying child support and maintenance (also sometimes called “spousal support” or “alimony”) may need relief from payment obligations during this unusual time in history.
Court Orders Remain in Effect
Losing a job, being furloughed or not having any work to do are not legal excuses for not paying court ordered child support or maintenance. Child support and maintenance orders remain in effect until modified by the Court. A child support payment recipient cannot legally agree to waive child support payments.
Negotiations to Suspend or Reduce or Modify Child Support Payments
Before seeking court help, parents and ex-spouses should try to negotiate a solution to their child support and maintenance issues. According to Rule 121, Section 1-15(1) in the Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure (“C.R.C.P.”), parties are required to confer with each other (if they have lawyers, the lawyers are required to confer) before filing a motion to modify child support or maintenance.
Some creative ideas for an agreement regarding child support and maintenance caused by lack of work, unemployment or furlough include: (1) an agreement to temporarily reduce the amount of the payment, with the reduction being made up within a fixed period of time; and/or (2) an agreement to suspend payments and have them accumulate, with the suspended payments being made up within a fixed period of time.
Many parenting plans, permanent orders, separation agreements and other documents establishing child support obligations and maintenance obligations require the parties to attempt mediation before asking the court to resolve the issue. Most mediators are now conducting mediation by phone or by video (for example, Zoom; Skype; Face Time, etc.) to be compliant with social distancing orders and laws.
Filing a Motion to Modify Support
If negotiations are unsuccessful, a motion to modify support can be filed. However, most Colorado courts are operating at a reduced level, and are only scheduling hearings for emergency matters involving criminal matters and matters of public safety. It could be many months before a modification motion is heard by the Court, and during that interim period all child support payments are due and owing.
What Happens if Payments Are Reduced or Missed Without Agreement or Court Order?
If court-ordered child support or maintenance payments are missed or reduced without an agreement or court order allowing it, the paying party could be subject to: (1) entry of a judgment pursuant to Colorado Revised Statute (“C.R.S.”) Section 14-10-122; and (2) contempt sanctions pursuant to Rule 107, C.R.C.P.
If a judgment is entered, the person who is owed the money can arrange for bank account garnishments, seizure of assets and other remedies against the judgment debtor. Interest on missed child support payments is steep: 12% compounded monthly. Interest on missed maintenance payments is 8% compounded annually.
If contempt sanctions are entered, the person who is delinquent on child support and maintenance payments might be subject to jail, fines, payment of attorney fees and other sanctions.
Persons who are obligated to pay child support or maintenance should not neglect their obligations. The sanctions and financial consequences are severe. Hiring an attorney can help mitigate the consequences of having to pay child support or maintenance in these hard economic times.