The coronavirus pandemic is affecting everyone in different ways. While health issues are, of course, a concern, the virus is also having a serious financial impact on many families. If you or your co-parent has lost income due to COVID-19, how will that affect your child support obligations? Will you qualify for a modification of your child support?
Quite possibly. Minnesota Statutes Section 518A.39 provides that a child support order can be modified under a number of circumstances that make the terms of the order unreasonable and unfair. One of those circumstances is “substantially increased or decreased gross income of an obligor or obligee;” another is “substantially increased or decreased need of an obligor or obligee or the child or children that are the subject of these proceedings.”
In other words, if the income of the person paying child support, the obligor, goes up or down significantly, or that of the recipient does, it could justify changing child support. How do you make that change happen—and should you?
Obviously, a loss of income, or a major decrease in income, may make it difficult for you to meet your expenses. And while you may be able to cut back in some ways, the reality is that your child is still going to need certain basics: food, shelter, clothing. You just can’t skip child support payments like you can give up your morning coffee at Starbucks. If you receive child support for your child, you count on that income to be able to provide for them.
But while a child is entitled to child support, that doesn’t mean a parent should be paying more in support than they can reasonably afford to. So if a change in your income would justify a modification of child support, it is probably in your best interests to move for a modification sooner rather than later. In Minnesota, both parents are considered to have a duty to support their child. How support responsibilities are allocated are based on an “income shares” model, which takes into account each parent’s income.
If one parent’s (or both parents’) income has changed a lot, a child support award based on old income information will no longer be accurate or fair. In general, a court will modify a child support award if the difference in basic support is at least $75 per month and at least 20% higher or lower than the old award. These requirements help make sure that parents don’t move to modify child support any time there is a minor change in their income.
Unfortunately for a lot of people during the COVID-19 pandemic, the change in their income is neither minor nor temporary. If you don’t anticipate your income returning to normal soon, you should not delay in asking the court to modify your child support. The court has the authority to retroactively modify child support back to the date of your petition. The longer you wait to ask for a modification of support, the longer you are going to be required to pay an amount of support you can no longer afford.
By the same token, if you receive child support for your child and your other income has dried up, it might now be fair for your co-parent to be paying a larger share of support. But that probably won’t happen unless you ask the court for help.
There are two ways to modify child support in Minnesota. The easiest is to reach an agreement with your co-parent to modify support. This is called a stipulation. The stipulation should show why the change in the support amount is in the “best interests of the child,” which is the touchstone for court decisions regarding child support, child custody, and parenting time. If the court finds the stipulation to change child support is in your child’s best interests, a hearing may not even be required. However, if either parent receives public assistance, or your child does, the county child support office will need to green-light your agreement before the court sees it.
If you and your co-parent cannot stipulate to modify your child support award, you will need to file a motion with the court asking a judge to change your award. As noted above, if you have had a significant change in your income, this should not be a problem.
Documents you will need to file with the court include a motion to modify child support, a notice of motion and an affidavit of service showing that you served the motion on your co-parent. You will also have to file a Confidential Information Form and Confidential Financial Source Documents.
What you need to know is that the courts have been closed for several weeks and they are only now starting to address the backlog. Since all modifications motions will only date back to the date of filing, it is still important to file for the motion knowing that it may take several months to be heard. This is also why you should try to get a stipulation to the new amount with your co-parent, allowing you to avoid the need for court appearances.
An experienced Minnesota family law attorney can help you complete the necessary documents for a modification, gather the evidence you need, and present it to the court. If you need to file for a modification of Minnesota child support due to COVID-19 or any other reason, we invite you to contact Mundahl Law to schedule a consultation.