Marital & Family Law Blog

Seeking Modification of Child Support or Alimony Due to Loss of Income or Employment During Covid-19 “Stay-at-home” Order

By: Jonathan Z. Schiller

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented number of Florida workers to experience layoffs, reduced hours and furloughs.  Applications for unemployment benefits have surged in Florida, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Labor.  In fact, at the end of March benefit applications far exceeded the weekly total of the state’s previous high in 2009 during the “Great Recession”.  The surge in applications follow sweeping closures and restrictions designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

In general, the involuntary reduction or loss of income could provide a legal basis to seek a downward modification of child support or alimony.  Florida law authorizes a modification of support when “…the circumstances or the financial ability of either party changes or the child who is the beneficiary of an agreement or order as described herein reaches majority after the execution of the agreement or the rendition of the Order.”  Florida law requires a party seeking a modification in alimony or child support to file a Supplemental Petition for Modification along with carrying the burden of proving a substantial change of circumstances.  Courts interpreting the meaning of the term “substantial change of circumstances” have found that such a change in circumstances must be significant, material, involuntary, and permanent in nature to warrant a reduction in payments.  That change, however, is generally not one that can only be temporary.  Typically, a parent who loses their job under ordinary circumstances must demonstrate that it is not solely a short-term loss in order for their support obligation to be modified.  The court will also look at the efforts of the parent’s to secure new employment and to provide the court with evidence of their good-faith efforts.

Currently, COVID-19 has halted many business in Florida and caused significant layoffs, reduced hours and furloughs for many parents.  However, no one knows when the pandemic will end, nor what things will look like when we try to get back to some sense of normalcy.  Consequently, if you have recently lost your job due to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, requesting a modification of child support may be premature.  But these are extraordinary times and the Court may look at these types of modifications with a different perspective given the magnitude of the worldwide economic loss.  If you are concerned that you will not be able to pay your ongoing support obligations or find comparable employment in the immediate future, then filing a Supplemental Petition for Modification may be an option for you during these uncertain times.

The family law attorneys at Brinkley Morgan have many years of collective experience handling child support and alimony modification cases in South Florida including Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade Counties.  While everything in our lives appears to be at a stand-still, know that Brinkley Morgan’s family law attorneys, paralegals and support staff are in full operation virtually.  By phone, video conferencing or email, Brinkley Morgan is continuing to provide counsel to address your family law needs.

Jonathan Schiller is a Florida Bar board certified specialist in Marital and Family Law and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. He concentrates 100% of his practice in the area of marital and family law primarily in Broward County, Palm Beach County, and Miami-Dade County.