This segment discusses the steps to ask a change to an existing support obligation if the support payor lost their employment or suffered a significant decrease in income.
But before we begin, all of us at Boutet Family Law and Mediation want to send our best wishes to all families during this period.
We are living under unthinkable circumstances but there is light at the end of the tunnel. We will get through this.
Q: With the pandemic and the economic impacts of businesses being shut down, people who lost their jobs or whose industries have been affected by the slowing down of the economy wonder if they can change their support amount.
Can you explain what they can do to change their support obligation?
A: It may be possible for support payors to change their support amount but it has to be done legally.
People do not have the right to take the law in their own hands and unilaterally change the amounts of support.
Some support arrangements are permanent and cannot be changed. But some can be changed.
The process for addressing it is different if there is a court order vs if there is a separation agreement.
A person may not be able to change the amount of support if they receive severance payments or other types of financial assistance that make their revenues similar to what they had before.
If there is a court order, the payor would be in breach of the court order and severe consequences could happen if they did not pay the amount in the most recent court order.
If there is a change in income, they need to go back to Court to ask the judge to change an amount.
Under COVID lockdown, it is unlikely that this would constitute enough of an emergency to be able to obtain an audience with the judge these days. If this is the case, people may have to privately retain a lawyer, or to participate in mediation or arbitration.
Since negotiation, mediation and arbitration can’t be forced on people, both parties must agree to use these services.
If you are the recipient spouse and are reluctant to participate in these processes, I invite you to listen to my closing remarks at the end of this segment.
If the support amount is defined in a separation agreement, the agreement will likely contain a list of steps that must be taken if someone is asking for a change.
These steps are usually mandatory, so you need to do them one by one. It usually involves an attempt to deal with the matter between the spouses with or without their lawyer.
If this does not work, there is often an obligation to use mediation. Thankfully, many family mediators offer their service using videoconferencing. Many situations do get resolved using mediation so my hope is that everyone will show some give and take and deal with the situation fairly.
Many families carry scars from their past interactions with each other and the legal system. They may be very reluctant to agree to deal with their ex in negotiation, mediation or arbitration.
Even if someone misbehaved the first time around, I encourage families to deal with whatever is happening right now from a more peaceful place.
We are living under very strange conditions right now. Nothing will be the same after this pandemic.
Humanity has been given a big blow. We have been given an opportunity to look at ourselves and discover how we want to do things differently in the future.
My invitation to families that carry scars from the past is to let go of their past hurt and to deal with the current situation from a fresh perspective.
If you don’t know exactly how to do that, all you have to do is start making the effort.
Whatever your circumstances, I encourage you to look at your options with an open heart.
If the current financial issues in your family do not get resolved by both of you using a voluntary legal process, the problem will continue to grow and it will become even bigger and more expensive to resolve when the courts reopen.
I wish you good luck.