Changes to Child and Spousal Support Procedures During COVID-19 Pandemic
Since the COVID-19 outbreak has hit the United States, new policies and procedures to flatten the curve have impacted just about every aspect of our lives. The implications are far-reaching and have already created challenges, particularly for people needing to file new cases for child and spousal support or modify their existing orders due to job loss or reduction of income as a result of the shutdown of non-essential businesses.
Currently, all Domestic Relations Offices in the central Pennsylvania area are closed to the public. As of the time of the writing of this article, Dauphin, Cumberland, York and Perry Counties remain open and are currently conducting support conferences via telephone only. Lancaster, Lebanon, and Adams Counties’ Domestic Relations offices are currently closed.
In all counties, the only way to file for a new support case or to file to modify an existing order is to file an electronic complaint for support or petition to modify support. The scheduling of conferences is up to the individual counties and, even in the Domestic Relations Offices that are currently open, there may be significant delays. Those offices that are currently closed will eventually reopen and schedule conferences; however, it is unknown how long the wait may be for a conference to be held.
Despite the fact that there may be significant delays, it is important to file any new actions or petitions for modification promptly as the order that is eventually entered will go back to the date of filing. That means, for example, if you lose your job due to the shut down on March 25 and file for a modification that same day but do not have a conference until June 25, the calculation of the new amount of support will go back to the date you filed on March 25. So, if you are starting a new action or need to change your existing order because you are currently out of work, or have a reduction in your income, the sooner you file the better.
The loss of a job or reduction of income due to the shutdown of all non-essential businesses is considered to be a significant change of circumstances that justifies the filing of a petition to modify support. When the support is calculated it will be based upon your income at the time you filed and at the time of the conference. So, if you are out of work and receiving no income for a period of time but later start receiving unemployment income, Domestic Relations can do an order that calculates the support while you have no income and then calculate a new amount for when you do have income. This is why it is important to file promptly for a modification so that you receive credit for all the time that you are out of work or have a reduction in your income.
Circumstances regarding COVID-19 are changing rapidly. We will continue to provide updates as new information becomes available. For more information on this topic or any other topic related to issues of divorce, custody, support or family law in general, please contact Kris Smull at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (800) 615-0115.