Our new world of social distancing, remote workspaces and virtual school creates many day-to-day challenges for all families. These challenges are exacerbated for families who have been through divorce, are currently divorcing, or otherwise share custody. Likewise, the added stress of losing a job or being furloughed during these tough economic times raises questions regarding a parent’s financial obligations, such as child support and alimony.
Custody and Parenting Time
While Georgia previously had a statewide “shelter in place” order, this did not apply to custodial arrangements. Gov. Brian Kemp issued an executive order, clarifying “that no provision of Executive Order 04.02.20.01 shall limit, infringe, suspend, or supplant any judicial order, judgment, or decree, including custodial arrangements.” It further provided that “Essential Services shall also include the transport, visitation, regular care of family members . . . specifically including . . . children.” Accordingly, if another shelter in place order is issued, parents should continue to follow court-ordered parenting plans unless that specific shelter in place order directs otherwise.
Over the last few months, family law attorneys have frequently been asked, “Do I have to allow parenting time when I know the other parent is not following public health guidelines, and is at risk for virus exposure?” The general rule of thumb is that parents should always follow a court order. Otherwise, they could be held in contempt of court. However, there are always exceptions to the general rule, and each situation should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Consider consulting with a family law attorney.
The best advice for families is to engage in strong co-parenting. Parents should engage in standard co-parenting efforts, but also observe public health recommendations, create a protocol for both households, and communicate with each other so that everyone feels calm when transitioning children between homes. Consistency will allow parents and children to feel more secure, and it can help keep everyone safe and healthy.
Economic Impact on Financial Obligations
In addition to health and safety concerns, many people have had their work hours reduced, salaries cut or employment terminated. Many do not know how they will pay their basic living expenses, much less child support and alimony. Georgia law allows the modification of child support and alimony and gives special consideration to those who have suffered an involuntary loss of income.
Generally, to modify child support, the party filing a motion or lawsuit must show that there has been a substantial change in either parent’s income and financial status, the needs of the children, or that there has been an involuntary loss of income. Parents familiar with the process might be aware of the two-year rule on modification of child support; however, this rule, which prohibits modifying child support multiple times within a two-year period, does not apply to cases of involuntary loss of income. Many upcoming modifications of child support cases will fall in this category, and the two-year rule will not apply.
Another important benefit of filing a modification of child support based on an involuntary loss of income, is that if proven, the modification is retroactive to the date of service of the lawsuit. Accordingly, the sooner a parent takes action, the sooner they may be entitled to relief. Further, if you do not file promptly, and fail to pay child support, you could be held in contempt of court.
Periodic alimony is also modifiable unless there has been a prior agreement that it will be non-modifiable. Similar to child support, to modify alimony there must be a substantial change in the income and financial status of either spouse. Contrary to child support, however, a party is not entitled to retroactive relief based on an involuntary loss of income. A modification of alimony is only effective as of the date of the judgment. Notably, the term of alimony may not be modified, only the amount.
The bottom line is that while we are experiencing unprecedented times, you have options. Contact a family law attorney to obtain the appropriate advice for your unique case.
Amy Saul Mollengarden is a partner at Boyd Collar Nolen Tuggle & Roddenbery, where she handles all types of family law matters with a focus on complex divorce and custody litigation. She also handles modification and contempt cases and can be reached at email@example.com or www.bcntrlaw.com.