Both child and spousal support awards are primarily based on the income of the parties. Prior to establishment of an Order, both parties are directed to show proof of income and relevant expenses. With respect to income, this can include recent pay stubs, last filed tax return and W-2, disability payment statements, retirement payment statements, unemployment, etc. Relevant expenses may include health insurance premiums, mortgage payments, child care costs, and private school tuition. It is the responsibility of the parties to petition the court to review a previously entered support Order if circumstances (i.e. income of parties or expenses) change.

During this pandemic, many individuals have experienced changes in income and expenses. With many industries affected by various policies intended to slow the spread of coronavirus, hours have been cut or jobs lost. Where schools have closed, there could be new child care costs if both parents are still working outside of the home. Alternatively, child care costs may have been eliminated if a parent is now working from home and able to watch their child as well. Regardless of the nature of the change, the first step to take is to file a request for modification if you have a court-ordered support award. Second, the filing party should gather all the documentation reflecting the changes. It is also important to attempt to determine how long the new circumstances will last. For example, if you have a date that you are returning to work or that your children are returning to child care. The courts understand this is an unprecedented situation for all of us and are doing their best to balance the need for support with the current circumstances of the parties.

Our country is still battling the spread of a new virus and with that, new questions as to custody exchanges in the event of confirmed Covid-19 diagnosis or suspected exposure. First and foremost, be compliant with your existing Order to the extent possible. This virus is not a reason to keep your child from seeing their other parent. If exact compliance with your Order is not possible, be reasonable in making necessary accommodations to permit shared custody to continue. It’s also key to try to be on the same page regarding best practices. Be prepared to discuss and model good behavior for your child(ren) in both homes including hand washing, wiping down surfaces, wearing a mask, and social distancing.

Be transparent and provide honest information with respect to any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus and try to agree on what steps you will take to protect your child(ren) from exposure. The courts have provided some guidance in the event of confirmed Covid-19 diagnosis or display of symptoms. If the reporting party has custody at the time, they should maintain custody until the symptoms resolve. If the non-reporting party has custody at the time, they should keep the child(ren) until the other parent has recovered. An exception can be made if parent has work obligation and cannot provide adequate care for the child(ren), in which case the child(ren) should return to the other parent. If there is a temporary pause in your schedule because of diagnosis or displayed symptoms, endeavor to work with each other to maintain a relationship through other means such as Skype, Zoom or Facetime.

Life is unpredictable and from time to time circumstances may arise that disrupt your normal routine. If you share a child with a former partner, part of your normal routine likely involves a custody schedule. The question then becomes what happens to my custody schedule in an emergency situation. Presently, our country is battling the spread of a new virus and with that, new directives for individuals to remain home as much as possible to lessen the rate of infection. What should you do about your custody order?

We are stressing the following steps to guide parents during this time:

Be prepared to discuss and model good behavior for your children in both homes including hand washing, wiping down surfaces, and social distancing.

Be compliant with the Order to the extent possible; if exact compliance is not reasonable or more stringent shelter at home directives are put in place, be creative in finding other ways to sustain the relationship (i.e. facetime, skype, etc.)

Be transparent and provide honest information with respect to any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus and try to agree on what steps you will take to protect your children from exposure.

These are a starting point. We certainly encourage productive communication beyond these listed issues. Remember to act within reason for circumstances beyond what has been described, show empathy and keep in mind how you would feel if the shoe was on the other foot.

Stay well!