It is supposed to happen every month like clockwork for many separated or divorced couples – alimony payments. With Coronavirus causing so much job loss across the country, it may be inevitable that you will experience a reduction in income either due to job furloughs or your employer going out of business. So what does this mean with regard to your alimony payments? Unfortunately, the answer is that you are still obligated to pay your former spouse.
While you are still required to make your alimony payments or risk being held in contempt, you do have the ability to take steps to protect yourself under the circumstances. An order to pay alimony continues unless and until you are able to obtain an order modification. There is never a guarantee that your request to modify your alimony even temporarily will be granted. However, talking with an experienced family law attorney about whether you qualify to seek relief to reduce or suspend your payments should be the first step you take.
Modification of an alimony order is sometimes possible
With the unemployment rate reaching highs that haven’t been seen since the Great Depression, the courts are likely to see an uptick in requests for alimony modifications. The circumstances of each case will be different, however whether the modification is granted will be largely based on whether alimony is modifiable at all and whether there has been a material change in circumstances that the court deems significant enough to warrant a change.
Courts base decisions on fairness and a party who can show that he or she is suffering financial devastation will have a better chance of having a request granted. One way of showing a material change has occurred includes evidence of involuntary job loss that results in a significant decrease in income.
Temporary protection for a temporary problem
Because of the widespread and well known effects that Coronavirus has had on our economy, proving to a judge that you have experienced a material change in circumstances may be somewhat less cumbersome. Provided that it does not place your former spouse in financial hardship to temporarily forego financial support or receive a lesser amount, you may succeed in receiving an alimony reduction or suspension until the emergency has passed.
To prepare to prove why you meet the change in circumstances requirement and to start safeguarding yourself against the potential for being found in contempt for non-payment, there are actions you should take:
Notify: Just as you would have appreciated some advanced notice to get your finances in order, your spouse may experience a similar panic if he or she suddenly finds himself or herself cash poor. You can help to diffuse the situation by being honest about your financial situation with your former spouse as quickly as possible. If you seek a modification of alimony, the court may view taking this step in your favor as it shows empathy for the hardship your ex may be going through as well.
Take action: File for unemployment and begin a job search immediately. Should you qualify for unemployment benefits it will offer you a source of income that will afford you to make some sort of good faith payment against your alimony, even if it’s not the full amount. It will help reduce the amount you will owe in arrears, allowing you to catch up faster once you become employed again. Job searches will also benefit you in showing the judge that you are not attempting to avoid your financial obligation, but are trying to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
Document all of your efforts: Keep copies of all text messages, emails, employment denials, and job offers. That will help show that you are trying to do everything within your control to earn an income and be able to make full payments to your ex. Once you go to court, it will show a judge that you are genuinely trying to comply with the court’s order.
How your arrearage could be made up
If the court determines that you do not qualify for a modification of alimony under the circumstances, the potential exists that once you do begin working again your income may be garnished to pay the arrearage you owe to your former spouse. When it comes to alimony, you could see up to 60% of your after tax earnings from each paycheck going to pay off that obligation until you are caught up. If you are more than 12 weeks behind that figure may change to 65%.
Other avenues of income that may be garnished to fulfill your alimony obligation under Maryland law includes:
- Unemployment benefits
- Social Security payments
- Workers’ compensation payments
We are living through unprecedented times that may call for unconventional solutions to ensure financial survival of both parties. Being unable to pay your alimony due to a loss of income from Coronavirus can be scary and stressful, making an already difficult situation worse. If you have concerns or questions about whether you will continue to receive alimony or whether you may have a strong case to have your payment amount modified, schedule a consultation with the knowledgeable Bethesda alimony attorneys at McCabe Russell, P.A. To see how we can help, call 443-917-3347, or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact form. We also maintain offices in Fulton, Columbia, and Rockville.