PA Child Support During an Economic Downturn

scales of justice with child and house on each side

In recent months, Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate skyrocketed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are one of the thousands of Pennsylvania residents who have lost their jobs, you may be worried about paying your child support during an economic downturn. Find out what happens if you don’t pay, and whether Corona-virus layoffs may be a basis to modify your current child support order.

Pennsylvania Faces Economic Downturn Due to Pandemic

Pennsylvania, along with the rest of the United States, have been dealing with the economic impact of emergency efforts to contain the sometimes deadly COVID-19 Coronavirus for months. That is reflected by the state’s unemployment numbers. In May 2020, nearly 850,000 Pennsylvania residents were out of work, and the state had an unemployment rate of 13.1%. That is up from just 4.7% in February, before the virus became widespread. Those numbers closely mirror the national unemployment rate of 13.3% in May.

Those who have lost their jobs have had to scramble to sign up for government programs or find other work to stay on top of bills including their mortgages and child support payments.

What Happens When Pennsylvania Child Support Goes Unpaid

Both parents have a legal obligation to contribute to the support of their children. When parents have a child support order in place, that obligation is enforced by the Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Office (DRO). Often that enforcement starts immediately when the original child support order is entered through wage attachment. But when a parent loses their job because of downsizing, disciplinary action, or layoffs resulting from nationwide pandemic shutdown, that wage attachment will have nothing to draw from to satisfy the parent’s child support obligations.

When PA child support goes unpaid, the DRO can enforce payments by:

  • Seizing lottery winnings
  • Redirecting tax refunds
  • Repossessing personal property
  • Garnishing bank accounts
  • Suspend the parent’s driver’s license, professional license, or recreational licenses (after 3 months of non-payment)
  • File contempt charges for willful non-payment

Contempt for failure to pay child support can result in up to 6 months in jail, though the parent may often be entitled to work release to facilitate ongoing child support payments while in jail.

How a Pennsylvania Child Support Lawyer Can Help

The last thing a parent in Media or Delaware County needs while facing economic hardship is to lose what assets they have. If you have lost your job and can’t pay child support during the economic downturn, you should speak to a Media or Delaware County, PA child support lawyer as soon as possible. They can help you petition the court to modify your existing child support order and make arrangements to avoid more serious collection efforts by the Domestic Relations Office.

Modifying Your Child Support Order Due to the COVID-19 Economic Downturn

Anyone with a Pennsylvania child support order can ask for that order to be reviewed every three years. However, you don’t have to wait that long. Your Media or Delaware County, PA child support lawyer can ask the court to review the order where there has been a “material and substantial change in circumstances.”

Parents swept up in the COVID-19 economic downturn most likely meet that standard. The Coronavirus shutdowns can affect your child support order by:

  • Reducing one or both parents’ income because of permanent layoffs
  • Reduce or eliminate child care costs as children and parents stay at home
  • Affect shared-parenting time overnights when the parents agree or a court orders that a child should stay in one home during the pandemic

Once you and your child support attorney show there has been a change, the court will apply the state child support formula, recalculating the amount you and your co-parent would have spent on the child had you remained together, and each parent’s share of that amount (called the “income shares” model). If your child spends more than 40% of overnights with you in your current custody arrangement, that amount will be adjusted to reflect those added costs to support the child in your own home.

Remember that once the change of circumstances threshold has been met, your child support order could be adjusted up or down, depending on the new circumstances for both parties. Before asking the court to recalculate child support it is a good idea to get a sense of your co-parent’s situation and review your own circumstances with your child support lawyer. Otherwise there is a chance that asking the court to modify your child support may make your financial circumstances worse.

The COVID-19 shutdowns and the resulting economic downturn have made life difficult for everyone. But they have been especially hard for those who have lost work because of the crisis. You don’t have to let child support payments pile up while you search for new work.

At Berman & Associates, our family court attorneys can help. Our staff is working hard remotely and in-person, in accordance with State and Local mandates, to make sure our clients’ needs are safely and aggressively met during the Coronavirus shutdown. We can review your financial situation and ask the court to modify your child support orders to save you money. We welcome you to contact us to schedule a virtual consultation with an attorney who can help answer your COVID-19 parenting time questions and find a solution that works for you and your family.