Modifying alimony and child support during COVID-19

By Doni R. Feinberg, Esq.

New Jersey is now fourth in the nation in unemployment claims, with almost 156,000 people applying for benefits during the week of March 15-21 – a 2,000% increase over the same week last year, according to the state Department of Labor.

Nationally, the numbers are equally sobering: a record 6.6 million Americans filed unemployment requests in a single week. Businesses are shuttered and streets are eerily empty. Those who can work remotely using technology are doing so from home – but many people cannot. Jobs deemed non-essential are anything but for people who can no longer work. And as of this writing, the president has extended the voluntary national shutdown for another month, until April 30.

Court logs are backed up

As members of our law firm work remotely, we are hearing from clients who are not receiving alimony and child support and from others who cannot pay support during this sudden economic collapse. At the same time, family court judges are scrambling to address cases by phone and video conferencing because courthouses are closed – and cases are backing up.

As they postpone various proceedings, judges appear to be applying new and different approaches as to what actually constitutes an emergency. Although emergency applications are still being heard, courts are urging parties to resolve their differences, either directly or perhaps through mediation, rather than attempting to litigate them.

Best solution: Work it out

New Jersey law is clear that parents are obligated to support their children emotionally and financially. And, even in normal times – absent a pandemic – New Jersey state law offers no immediate relief in terms of alimony or child support modifications. Consequently, Spector Foerst & Associates family law attorneys are urging clients to try to work out a solution, certainly with our help as needed.

A number of factors are weighed in determining child support, and those support obligations remain in place until each child turns 18 or is emancipated. Under substantially changed circumstances – including job loss – a support obligation can be modified (NJSA 2A:34-23, NJSA 5:6A). The party bringing the motion must prove that he or she has experienced a change of circumstances and that the change is unexpected and permanent. And the judge can exercise considerable discretion in determining whether to grant such a request.

Under New Jersey’s alimony law, no motion to modify support can be filed until a party has been unemployed, unable to return to work, or unable to obtain a new job at a similar income level, for 90 days. While the judge has discretion to grant relief retroactively, there are no guarantees that relief will be granted at all – or made retroactive. And, thinking positively, it’s also possible that the pandemic could be over in 90 days.

New law should help

Meanwhile, the recently signed federal CARES Act is being implemented. The law provides benefits for both employers and the unemployed, and some changes of circumstances may be alleviated with the income relief now on its way. Nevertheless, all of this is a lot to wrap your mind around, in addition to dealing with sheltering in place and all of the other sudden changes in our lives.

A Spector Foerst & Associates family law expert can help you sort through both the legal and the legislative aspects of your changed – and changing – circumstances. We are working with clients by phone and video conferencing, and we will be happy to discuss your personal situation. Together we can determine the best course of action for you and your family. Just give us a call at 973-258-9200.


Posted on April 4, 2020