Coronavirus and Social Distancing Related Job Loss: Child Support and Childcare Related Issues
The coronavirus has already taken its financial toll on many Americans. Individuals in the restaurant and bar industry throughout the United States are facing government shutdowns relative to dine-in service, making it impossible for these establishments to carry on with normal business volume and forcing restaurant businesses without a carryout option to close. The requirement initially was that these establishments close for roughly two weeks, but has been extended to April 30th, and who knows how long the closures will be further extended? No one is really certain. Dental practices can only see emergency patients and many retail stores have closed as well.
People who are working in these industries who have a child support or modifiable spousal support obligation are likely wondering how they will pay their support obligations and their other bills. To further complicate matters, all routine type motions and issues in the domestic relations division in Cook County, Illinois like counties throughout the nation have been seemingly halted by the court system, though as the days press on we are learning of additional ways to handle agreed matters and even some case finalizations.
On the other side of the coin, schools are currently closed in every state, including Illinois, and certain parents may find themselves in a position where they still need to work, but do not have adequate child care, or perhaps cannot afford to shoulder the burden of full-time child care. For example, nurses, doctors, and other persons in the health field must still report to work as usual. Grocery stores and pharmacies remain open. First responders like firefighters, policemen, and National Guard Reservists are reporting for duty. Not everyone has the luxury of depending on family or friends to watch their children in their absence. With schools closed, many parents are wondering what they should do next.
Is it Time to File a Motion for Modification of Child Support?
First and foremost, the courts, at least in Cook County, Illinois, are not closed for electronic filing of cases. This means that motions can be filed; you just cannot obtain a court date until after the courts reopen. New cases for support can also be filed. Filing motions is still an option.
So, how does this information help?
In Illinois, like most states, judges have the discretion to order child support and contribution to child-related expenses retroactive back to the date the motion was filed. For child support obligors, that means that if you have a substantial change in circumstances, which would require your child support to be modified, you can file a motion immediately to modify your support, and the Court could grant the motion retroactive back to the date of filing. (Note that this author is not implying that a two week shut down of a particular service or industry would necessarily be a substantial change in circumstances to modify child support, but it is unknown how long Coronavirus stay-at-home order will be in place.) Job loss would certainly be a basis to modify child support, particularly if it was due to no fault of the obligor. However, keep in mind that even if you lose your job, your children need to eat and continue to have expenses, as do the recipients of spousal support. Filing a motion to modify support doesn’t excuse non-payment in the interim.
On the flip side, if you find yourself in a situation where you will have a substantial increase in the cost of child care due to the Coronavirus Pandemic and Social Distancing regulations, you likewise should consider filing a motion. You may not be able to get assistance right away because of the court closure, however, you can request contribution retroactive back to the date you file your request. You may have to front the costs in the interim until the Courts open again, but you can at least request a retroactive reimbursement, assuming you have experienced a substantial change in circumstances requiring a larger contribution to childcare. Note that if you have a percentage order on child care, the amount should fluctuate based upon what you pay, so it may not be necessary to file something, depending upon how your order is worded. If it is a flat amount set forth in your order, or if there is job loss, a motion is likely necessary.
These are times unlike anything anyone has experienced and there is no way to know for certain how the Courts will handle the influx of filings that are likely to occur based upon the Coronavirus Pandemic and Social Distancing. However, knowledge is power, and putting in a request for a modification to err on the side of caution is a good idea since motions can be withdrawn later. However, you can’t request a retroactive contribution if you don’t file anything at all, so keep that in mind.
This posting is for educational purposes only to give you general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this website you understand that there is no attorney-client relationship between you and the National Law Review and/or the author, and the options stated herein are the sole opinions of the author and do not reflect the views or opinions of the National Law Review or any of its affiliates.