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The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted virtually every aspect of family law throughout Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, child support is no exception. With many families experiencing unemployment and economic hardships, many are wondering if their child support, either their payment or receipt of it, will change during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Generally, child support is secured through the establishment of a support order obtained by filing a child support complaint through your home Domestic Relations Section. Once an order has been established, it can be modified (increased or lowered or terminated, based on a showing of appropriate circumstances) by filing a petition for modification.
If child support orders are not paid, the Domestic Relations Section can also initiate enforcement proceedings. Unfortunately it appears that nothing will be scheduled at the present time, during the Coronavirus outbreak, and enforcement will be delayed.
Obviously, as a result of pandemic, many individuals have been laid off or furloughed, forcing their hours of employment or income reduced. Accordingly, there may be extenuating circumstances behind a failure to pay. But Orders will continue to charge at the ordered amount until a court can modify or terminate the Order.
Unfortunately, the Domestic Relations Sections in Lehigh and Northampton County are now closed to the public through at least April 14. Petitions for modification can be filed by regular mail, and it is possible that new complaints can be initiated as well by mail. But conferences to establish a new support obligation or to modify an existing one will not be scheduled prior to April 14.
Because all currently scheduled conferences and hearings through April 14 have been canceled, it is very likely that newly scheduled matters will be substantially delayed. That said, it is very important that you protect your rights by seeking legal counsel to ensure that appropriate Petitions or Complaints are filed at the earliest possible date in order to protect your rights.
Parties to support actions should pay attention to and follow developments at both the state and federal level regarding unemployment compensation, loans and or direct payments to individuals and businesses affected by the pandemic.
In Pennsylvania, unemployment compensation benefits are available if:
(A) your employer closes temporarily or goes out of business as a result of COVID-19,
(B) your hours are reduced because of COVID-19,
(C) you’ve been told to not work because of concerns that you have been infected or might infect others because of COVID-19, or
(D) you have been told to quarantine or self isolate.
The one-week waiting period has also been suspended. Accordingly, all eligible claimants may receive benefits for the first week they are unemployed.
At the present time, the United States Senate has passed a stimulus bill which must now go to the House of Representatives. The Senate Bill provides, among other things, for an extension of unemployment compensation insurance by 13 weeks and covers self-employed and furloughed workers. The Senate Bill also offers workers $600 a week for those additional four months, in addition to what Pennsylvania law already provides. Finally, the bill provides for federally backed loans for small businesses with 500 employees or fewer.
If you have experienced a loss of income that will affect a current child support order and impact your ability to pay it on time or in the court ordered amount, you should contact an attorney and protect yourself by filing a petition for modification with detailed information regarding any Coronavirus-related reasons impacting your ability to pay.
If you are the recipient of child support and payments are not received in a timely fashion or in the court-ordered amount, you should also contact an attorney in order to determine when your Domestic Relations Section will be scheduling enforcement proceedings in order to address the problem.
Attorney Allen Tullar is an experienced divorce attorney, assisting families in Lehigh and Northampton County in divorce, custody, alimony and support, and other family law matters.