Many people are facing the loss of a job or a business in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Such a loss is devastating in the best of times, especially when you are paying spousal maintenance or child support. But Minnesota law allows you to modify your support obligations. Depending on your situation, you may be able to decrease, suspend, or terminate your spousal maintenance or child support obligation. Below are 4 tips on how to handle this:
- Talk to Your Ex Right Away. Yes, that is right. You should contact your ex and notify them of your change in circumstances as soon as possible. If you communicate by text, email, or Our Family Wizard, you can say something like: “My income is changing due to [job/business] loss related to the coronavirus pandemic. I understand that the law provides for modification of support, which I will need to pursue. I prefer to reach an agreement with you about this. When are you available to discuss the details?” Be mindful of how you communicate with your ex. Approaching this issue in a civil, business like manner is more likely to result in a productive discussion.
- Try to Reach an Agreement. Discussing your circumstances with your ex and coming to an agreement is the best-case scenario in this type of situation. In order for your agreement to be enforceable, it must be put into writing. A written agreement like this is called a Stipulation and Order, and it must be signed by both parties, filed with the court, and signed by a Judge. A verbal agreement or an agreement that is contained only in an email or text is not enforceable by the court. If your ex changes their mind about the amount of your payments and you only have a verbal or unsigned agreement, your ex can enforce your current support obligation even years from now. Unless you have a signed Stipulation and Order, you are financially vulnerable.
- Obtain Legal Counsel. If you cannot reach an agreement or if talking with your ex is not an option and you need the assistance of a lawyer, you should contact a divorce and family law attorney as quickly as you can. Why do we keep telling you to do things as soon as possible or as quickly as you can? Because the court will not change the amount you have to pay retroactive to the date your income decreased or ceased. It will only change your support obligation retroactive to the day you file a motion asking the court to modify support. If you wait three months to begin looking for legal counsel to assist you, your support obligation will continue to grow and you will owe money to your ex for the months you have not paid. The only way to stop the enforcement of the payments you are ordered to make at the earliest possible time is by filing a motion with the court. Right now the courts are accepting new filings and family court cases are moving forward although there may be a delay in your case being heard by a Judge, and it will likely be handled remotely by phone or videoconference.
- Working with Your Attorney. You should be prepared to provide your attorney with details related to your job or business loss and how long you expect your changed circumstances to last. Your attorney will ask for all relevant documents related to your job or business loss, including prior court orders, and tax and business records. Be ready to provide all information and documents your attorney requests so she can handle your case efficiently, which will help you control the fees you pay.
At Maxim Smith Family Law, we work closely with each client to understand their unique circumstances, and we then create a strategic plan together that utilizes our attorneys’ negotiating and advocacy skills. Social distancing has not changed our ability or capacity to handle cases; we are equipped with and ready to use the technology necessary to interact with mediators and the courts remotely. Likewise, we continue to offer clients virtual meetings, either by videoconference or telephone.
You are not alone. Besides these tips for modifying your support obligation, you can find information about unemployment insurance for Minnesotans here: UIMN. Another good resource to review is this free article, Your Money: A hub for Help During the Coronavirus Crisis.