Change In Financial Circumstances During COVID-19

By Lori Caldwell-Carr, Attorney on April 16th, 2020

The coronavirus outbreak is here, and it seems like a difficult time to speak about money, but this COVID-19 crisis is causing enormous financial strain on many families. Often, legal intervention is needed to obtain resolution.

I am going to provide some brief considerations for those who may be facing financial strains in family law matters that are being caused by the sudden, unexpected and dramatic result of the COVID-19 crisis.

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What COVID-19 events may be causing a need for financial changes to a family law case?

  • Loss of job;
  • Significant reduction in pay rate;
  • Reduced work hours;
  • Business owner forced to close or greatly reduce their business work.
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Can You Cooperate? (at least for a little while)

The first step is often to simply talk to the other party. This may be a spouse, co-parent or other person in a family law case. If possible, try to find a way to cooperate for your mutual benefit, and for the benefit of any children. Keep in mind it is very difficult at this time to tell what is going to happen in a week or a month and what the long-term implications of the COVID-19 crisis will look like. Before jumping into legal action, is there a way to reach an agreement for a short-term resolution?

Emergency Short Term Agreements

If you do reach an arrangement for a short-term agreement:

  • If you transfer money to someone, for any reason, document the purpose of the payment and do it in manner that can be proven later. For example, a check or written receipt for cash that includes a note detailing the purpose of the money. Cash receipts should include the signature of the recipient that they received the money and the purpose of the payment.
  • Put your agreement(s) in writing and both keep a copy. You can also jointly sign two identical agreements so you both have an original.

Be aware that child support in Florida is based upon a calculation and not an arbitrary figure that the parents just agree upon. Financial support is the right of the child and parents cannot ‘agree’ to modify child support without court approval. Keep in mind that past due support can often be forgiven by the parent receiving the support.

Every situation is different, and you can still call your family law attorney if you have concerns.

Do You Have An Open Family Law Case?

If you do, and if it has financial matters to be decided, you are likely required to provide financial disclosures. If your circumstances substantially changed since your initial disclosure, and you expect it to be a long-term change, you are expected to amend your financial affidavit and may need to provide other related disclosures.

This should not be hard. For many people it means you need to update your financial affidavit (income, expenses, assets and liabilities) and provide documents relating to the change(s). If you have had a job loss or reduction in work and are receiving benefits, make sure to disclose any unemployment, SNAP, or other benefits such as furloughed health insurance benefits.

Remember that most people are in the same circumstance, just be honest in your disclosures and file them promptly so that the other parent, spouse or party can also plan for any related impact this will have on them.

Requesting A Modification of Support

If your case is closed, your financial situation has substantially changed for the long-term, you may need to request a modification of a prior order from the court.

Often you will need to demonstrate that the change was significant, involuntary, and expected to be long-term, or permanent in nature. Courts don’t want people requesting modifications for being out of work for a couple weeks but there is no bright line about when you can file or not file. Judges consider many things; each situation is unique, and it can be complex.

Prepare and Keep Good Records

If you think you might need to involve the family law court in your financial situation, please keep good records.

Here are some record keeping tips

  • Keep records. Job loss notification, benefit awards, unusual expenses, job search.
  • Keep a calendar of any financial events. Job loss, benefit awards, unusual expenses.
  • Keep a calendar of your time-sharing schedule with children.
  • Business owners should keep and prepare to provide detailed records of significant changes.

What Should I Do Next?

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Have a legal strategy session with an attorney to review your entire situation. There are often multiple options and the law may not giver you clear direction. If you have worked with us in the past, we offer a follow up consultation to previous clients at no charge. If you have not worked with us before, attorney Brandon Berry is currently offering a one-hour legal strategy session for $100.

In family law, it is extremely common to represent yourself and family courts are designed for you to do this. Because many of the courthouses are closed to in-person visits during the Coronavirus outbreak, you’ll need to look for resources online and by telephone. A good start is FLcourts.org; click on the self-help section.

It is still much too early to really know the full impact of COVID-19 on us. I hope that it isn’t necessary to involve the court to get help, but if you do, understand that you have options.