Unable to Pay Child Support Due to Unemployment?

The coronavirus pandemic is impacting many aspects of our lives, including divorce and custody agreements. When most former couples made agreements on things like child support, few could have predicted we would have a global pandemic on our hands and large swaths of the economy shut down for months. As a result of the shutdowns, many people lost their jobs and businesses have been forced to close. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of uncertainty around the pandemic, and no one knows when things will be back to “normal.” So, what does this mean for child support payments in an era where people seem to be losing their jobs left and right?

In North Carolina, unemployment claims have shot through the roof. In many cases, getting money for those claims can take as long as two or more weeks. To make matters worse, unemployment amounts are often way lower than what most people were taking home before. This lag in payment and the fact that most people make way less on unemployment than when they are working means a lot of people who have been ordered to make child support payments might not have the funds to cover basic living necessities, like food and rent costs, let alone child support payments.

What Happens if You Cannot Make Your Child Support Payment in the COVID-19 Era?

What if you are unemployed or your hours were reduced due to COVID? Can you be found in contempt if you cannot make your child support payment? In the state of North Carolina, a judge can hold you in contempt if the refusal to pay is a willful decision. However, because issues like unemployment or underemployment are out of your control, if you are having trouble making your payments, the judge will not likely consider your inability to pay a willful violation. Most judges understand that we are facing unprecedented times, and because of that many judges are unlikely to punish people who cannot make their payments.

That said, COVID should not be an excuse not to pay anything at all.

Despite the pandemic and any resulting unemployment or cut in pay, people who have a child support order should at least attempt to pay something. Even if full payments cannot be made, an attempt should be made to pay something, even if you have to tap into savings or break up payments. Now may be the time to take a peek at the budget to see what can be cut. Child support payments should be on the same level, and may be higher than your electric bill or rent payment. If you are paying for luxuries like multiple subscription services or meal delivery services, now may be the time to push the pause buttons on those until the priority expenses are taken care of.

On the Flip Side, if I am Owed Child Support During COVID, can I File for Contempt?

On the other side of the aisle, what happens if you are owed child support money and really rely on it? Can you file for contempt? Unfortunately, because we are living in unprecedented times, there are few options available to help offset the loss of the child support payments. Because many judges understand and sympathize with people who have lost their jobs or seen a decrease in wages due to the pandemic, it may be a while before you begin to see normal child support payments again. Because unemployment can happen suddenly, few judges will find a person’s inability to pay as a willful act. Because of that, you may need to do a thorough consideration of your situation and your chances of success before going through the trouble of filing for contempt.

It is also important to note that even if you do choose to file a contempt motion, chances are that courts will not even hear the case for months to come because many court operations are still reduced due to the pandemic. An alternative plan may be to attempt to work out a payment plan of sorts with your former partner so you can at least continue to get some of the support that is owed. If this is the route you choose, consulting with an attorney experienced with working on child support cases is important because a lawyer can help ensure any agreement or payment plan is fair.

Did you recently lose your job due to COVID-19? Do you owe child support, but cannot afford the payments due to lack of income? The team at Arnold & Smith, PLLC can help. Our team of experienced legal professionals can help you set up a payment plan or other arrangements until you get back on your feet. Call our office in Charlotte, North Carolina today at 704-370-2828 or contact us here for a consultation.