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COVID-19: Lowering Child Support and Avoiding a Motion for Contempt in Florida

Board Certified Boca Raton Child Support Lawyer

As Floridians continue to face unprecedented impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasing number of divorced parents are wondering, “Can I lower my child support obligation during the coronavirus crisis?” Meanwhile, those who missed child support payments during the pandemic are afraid of potential motion for contempt in Florida.

As many divorced parents in Boca Raton and other parts of Florida have been furloughed, laid off, or had their work hours cut, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted their child custody arrangements and the ability to pay child support.

Fact: Florida recently overtook California as the state with the most weekly unemployment claims. A staggering nearly 2 million residents of the Sunshine State have filed unemployment claims from the beginning of the coronavirus crisis.

Can You Modify Child Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

For those paying or receiving child support – or alimony, for that matter – the obligor parent becoming unemployment can be a significant financial blow for both parents and their children. In view of this, Florida has seen an ever-increasing demand for reduction in child support and alimony obligations since the pandemic began.

But can you actually lower your child support obligation due to the coronavirus crisis? That depends on your circumstances. Fortunately, Florida law provides grounds for a post-judgment modification of family court orders, including alimony and child support.

In Florida, you can request a support modification regardless of whether you are the payor or recipient of support payments. Some of the grounds for child support modification that may be applicable during the COVID-19 pandemic include:

  • Loss of job
  • Reduction in income
  • Changes in child care costs
  • Increases in health care costs
  • Changes in time-sharing behaviors

Florida Statutes, Section 61.30 (1)(b) provides that the change in circumstances must create a difference in the existing support obligation of at least 15% or $50, whichever amount is greater. If either party can demonstrate the difference of at least 15% or $50, their request to modify the existing order may be granted.

Can You Be Held in Contempt for Non-Payment of Child Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic?

The obligor parent who was ordered to pay child support to the other parent can be found in contempt of court for failing to comply with the family court order. The parent receiving support payments can file a motion for civil contempt on their own or with the help of an attorney. Alternatively, they can ask Florida’s Child Support Enforcement Bureau to file the motion on their behalf.

The spouse filing a motion for contempt of the child support order must prove the following elements:

  1. There is a valid child support order approved and signed by a Florida judge;
  2. The obligor parent has not made support payments according to the order; and
  3. The parent who owes support did so willfully because they had the ability to pay.

The court assumes that the parent had the ability to pay but failed to do so, and the burden shifts to the obligor parent to prove that they could not have made support payments to avoid being held in contempt.

Ultimately, the judge will decide whether the obligor parent is in contempt for non-payment of child support during the COVID-19 pandemic at a hearing that must be attended by both parties. If you cannot prove that you did not have the ability to pay child support during the coronavirus crisis, the judge will issue an order stating how and when you must make overdue payments. The order may also include other penalties, including fines or even jail time.

As many Floridians were laid off and furloughed while the entire planet continues to grapple with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, judges are likely to side with obligor parents whose ability to make child support payments were affected by the crisis. Thus, if you can avoid being held in contempt for failing to fulfill your child support obligation if you can prove that the COVID-19 pandemic affected your ability to pay.

Contact our Boca Raton support modification attorney at Lewert Law, LLC, to discuss whether your circumstances warrant a child support modification during the COVID-19 pandemic. Call at (561) 544-6861 or complete our contact form for a free case review.