My child’s father has been furloughed. What about child support?

Posted on Apr 29, 2020 by Katie Carter

There aren’t great answers right now. Unemployment is at its highest rate, like, ever, which is really scary. I keep reading about mortgage companies offering some forgiveness, federal student loans are at 0% interest and on a 6 month forbearance, and the possibility of even help from utility companies and others.

At the heart of it, too, is vamped up unemployment benefits and the coronavirus stimulus plan, which means that most tax payers should be receiving some sort of payment from the federal government to help weather this crisis.

It’s a terrible place to be in – either you’re an essential worker, risking bringing the virus home to your family, or you’re laid off, and you’ve lost your ability to support your family at all. What’s better? Neither, obviously! It’s a terrible time, and there are no hard and fast rules. The situation is too fresh, the totality of the circumstances is too unclear. We keep telling clients that we really need to assess things on a case by case basis, depending on the unique facts present in each case.

But what about child support? What happens if the paying parent has been furloughed?

Well, it’s complicated. As my mom always says, you can’t get blood from a rock! If he doesn’t have it at all, he can’t pay it. But is that all there is to it? Of course not!

I was in front of a judge in Virginia Beach circuit court on another case awhile back, who put it the best I’ve ever heard. He said, “The question isn’t, “after you’ve paid all your bills, how much do you have left to pay child support?” Its, “After I pay child support, how much do I have left to pay my bills?”

Child support is ORDERED. It is a court order, whether it’s something you’ve agreed to in a contract (which was then entered with the court), or whether the judge ordered child support at a certain level.

You have to pay it. If you don’t, it accrues – with interest, in some cases – and, ultimately, if it goes on long enough, you could go to jail for not paying it.

Additionally, there are lots of things out there that could help a furloughed worker pay child support. The coronavirus stimulus payments are being paid now-ish, if you haven’t received yours, and unemployment benefits have been significantly beefed up.

I don’t think any judge anywhere would be impressed to hear about a parent, in a case where child support is ordered, who was receiving unemployment or received a stimulus payment, who didn’t even make an effort to pay support.

I don’t know how judges will rule on these issues later – and it’s impossible to really gauge their reactions now, since the courts are closed and whether or not child support will be paid is really not an emergency issue.

I imagine that the judge would (later, when the courts reopen) look at how well your child’s father worked with you, at what obligations he had (and which were more flexible because of the circumstances), and also at you, and what changed and stayed the same for you. Do you still have to pay for childcare, or did that expense go away? Are you working? On and on.

I don’t know whether the arrearages will grow, or whether interest will be charged on overdue child support payments. These are desperate times, and I don’t think a dad will be punished for circumstances beyond his control. But, also, I don’t think the judge will be impressed if no attempt is made to pay child support.

Like so many other things, this is a wait and see kind of game – and it’s also going to depend on a lot of specific factors. Are you getting stimulus payments? Are your student loans on forbearance? Are you eligible for unemployment? What has happened to your childcare expenses? Have any attempts at payment been made?

It’s going to be case-by-case, based on the facts. If you can, communicate with your child’s father and come up with a solution that works for you – it’ll help, at least, in the sense that if you can reach a resolution (even in the event that you accept less support than has been awarded) you won’t have to pay the costs involved with filing petitions and litigating over the lost child support.
There are very few hard and fast rules here, but I do think you (and your child’s father) should remember the judge’s words in my recent hearing:

It is not how much you have left to pay child support once you’ve paid your other bills; it’s how much do you have left to pay your bills after you pay child support.

Child support is a first obligation, a primary obligation, and one that should be met even in changing and challenging circumstances, wherever possible. This is (hopefully) temporary, and the world will (hopefully) be getting back to normal soon enough – we just have to weather the storm, communicate, and take care of our babies in the meantime.

For more information, to talk to an attorney, or to schedule an appointment, give our office a call at 757-425-5200. Stay safe and healthy, friends!