When we consider the lengths to which we have curtailed our normal behavior in hopes of limiting the transmission of the coronavirus, the main motivation for doing so is to protect our collective health. This is the reason why businesses were shut down, professional sports leagues suspended operations and our very way of life changed dramatically at the drop of a hat. All to keep us, especially our most vulnerable populations, safe. We will be able to look back in a few years and make a better determination about whether or not those efforts were effective or not.
It is not going to take a few years for us to come to the realization that the shutdown, quarantines and stay at home orders were especially difficult on our national economy. Even with the ability of people to work from home during the pandemic, we have seen job losses that have been astronomical. Retail and service industry jobs have been especially hard hit. From what we have seen in relation to the virus, the cause of the job loss may or may not be what has led to a decrease in recent days of overall cases of the virus. Nobody knows what path the virus and its infection rate is going to take. We do know that tens of millions of people are out of work today that were not out of work in March.
For as many people who are reading this blog post, there are probably just as many financial scenarios that have played themselves out in the past few months. Some of you are set up well financially. Your income is stable, you have money in the bank, you have no to very little debt. Financially speaking you are well positioned to take a hit if and when this virus turns worse or even comes back for a second round this fall or winter.
For others of you, your financial state may not be as well established in a positive sense. You may have lost your job due to the virus and are doing whatever you can to scrape by right now until the economy fully opens up and additional opportunities in the job market present themselves. If you had any money in the bank you likely used that already to pay for the necessities of life. Rent and mortgage payments will be due in just a few days. Questions abound as to whether or not you will have the wherewithal to make those payments on time and in full.
Now, add onto these situations that I am describing an ongoing family law case. If you filed for divorce in early March (just before COVID-19 became the issue that dominates our lives) your case may have hit a roadblock once the courts started. What can you do from a financial perspective in order to maintain your case and your sanity? Or, if your divorce is done and over with you may be questioning what you can do if you have problems with paying your child support each month moving forward.
In today’s blog post from the Law Office of Bryan Fagan, I would like to touch on subjects related to finances and the coronavirus. We all know that there are families around us who are hurting right now. If you are one of those families then there is no doubt that you have options available to you as far as adjusting things during the middle of this pandemic.
Finances, family law and COVID-19
One of the first things that I would like to point out to anyone who is reading this blog is that the purpose of my writing it is not to shame anyone. We all find ourselves in different positions financially. For instance, the oil and gas industry has been hit especially hard by the shutdowns in the economy. Air travel, car travel and a lack of space to store recently pumped oil has come to a head and caused a major disruption in that area of the economy.
It just so happens that the state of Texas, and our area especially, is especially dependent on oil and gas jobs. While oil and gas is definitely a cyclical field where good times are followed by bad times and back around the roller coaster, the nature of this downturn coming during the pandemic has only intensified the losses. Oil and gas jobs are at a premium now with many furloughed and others seeing their jobs terminated.
Let’s examine a few areas of family law related to finances to see what steps you can make to shore up that area of your life. Suppose that you are a father of three who is responsible for paying monthly child support on behalf of your children. Those payments are taken out of your check automatically at the beginning of the month without you having to do anything about it. If your job were to be furloughed then you would need to figure out how to attack that problem sooner rather than later. Here some tips on how to handle this financial hardship associated with a Texas family law case.
First, you cannot avoid the problem and hope it just goes away. While the economic crisis may go away, and your need to find employment may go away, if you miss three or four months of child support payments that problem will not go away. Owing thousands of dollars in child support is no joke. Your ex-spouse can file an enforcement lawsuit where you will have to answer for violating your divorce decree and its requirements of you to pay monthly support.
To avoid the worst of this situation, I would recommend you do a few things as soon as you find out that you have lost your job. First, reach out to your ex-spouse and attempt to speak to her regarding the upcoming problems that you will be having in regard to not being able to pay child support. Again, this is a problem that is not going to go away on its own. If you are up front with your ex-spouse about your situation then she can work with you on delaying or even forgiving payments outright.
You can work on a payment plan where you pay the owed child support over a certain period of time. You could even work out a temporary reduced level of support that would cover the entirety of the support figure that is owed. However, you could not solve this problem if you were to simply ignore it and never work with your ex-spouse directly on getting it solved. Choosing to look the other way until your job comes back is not the way to handle this financial problem.
The other method you can choose to acknowledge this financial issue would be to contact the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) directly. The OAG is the group that administers child support payments on behalf of the state of Texas. If you lose your job you can contact the OAG and let them know about your situation. They cannot make you any promises about a reduced amount owed, only a modified court order can do that, but the OAG can file a modification request with the court if you are not able to do so.
File a modification petition to reduce the amount of child support that you owe
The next step that you can undertake in order to officially reduce your monthly child support obligation would be to file a modification petition with your court. To do so you would likely need to hire an attorney (which may prove difficult if you are struggling financially). However, you do not have to hire a lawyer to move forward with a modification.
A modification for child support would be based on a substantial change in circumstances that occurred in your life, your ex-spouse’s life or in the life of your child. The loss of a job amidst the coronavirus pandemic would seem to fit the bill for a substantial change in circumstances. If you have lost your job and found another job that pays you far less or are struggling to find inconsistent work this may be a good route for you to take in order to get a court order that reduces your child support obligation.
The reduction would need to be in the best interests of your child. If it has been years since you had your child support obligation reviewed then it is more likely that a court would find the requisite change in circumstances. Getting an opportunity to go before a judge may prove more difficult during this time when courts are not fully opened up yet. However, you can always attempt to mediate the case before that or even settle directly with your ex-spouse on a reduced child support figure. All of which would be better options than burying your head in the sand and hoping this financially difficulty goes away on its own.
What can you do in order to prepare for a family law case you plan on filing this summer?
Now let’s assume that you do not have an active family law case but are planning on needing to hire an attorney and file for a divorce summer. The quarantine has driven home the message that you need to get a divorce and need to do so now. Once you get back to work full time and the courts are fully open for business you plan on filing for divorce and moving on with everything that entails.
The question that keeps popping into your head, however, is how are you going to put yourself in a position where you can do that considering all of the economic hurdles that are in your way right now. Let’s address a few things you can do to put yourself on solid economic footing for the summer before that divorce is filed for.
First, you should get yourself on a budget where your spending habits are decided before the month even begins. Now is a great time to budget your income for June. If you don’t set out a budget then your money has a habit of getting away from you at times (just like everyone else’s!). A budget doesn’t confine your spending. Rather, it gives you permission to spend money freely- knowing that you have planned for it.
If you have debts that can be paid quickly you should consider whether or not to just get those paid off. Large debts shouldn’t be paid on in large numbers right now because those will be dealt with in your divorce. Otherwise, you should consider paying minimum payments on large debts and working towards paying small debts off before you move forward with your divorce.
Finally, you should speak to experienced family law attorneys now about what they charge and what you are willing to pay for legal services. While you do not need to hire an attorney to help you file for divorce it is recommended especially if you have children or a great deal of assets to divide. Couple those type of circumstances with the odd developments associated with the closing of courts due to this virus and an attorney could be even more valuable to you now than in prior months and years.
Questions about your finances and family law in Texas? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan are here to assist you with whatever family law related issue impacts your life. We have a team of experienced and licensed family law attorneys who are capable of helping you and your family. To find out more about the services which we provide to our clients please contact us today. We offer free of charge consultations six days a week with our attorneys via phone and video conference. Thank you for choosing to spend part of your day with us here on our blog.