How to handle spousal/child support during COVID-19.
You had it all sorted: your Parenting Plan Agreement was in place and you knew exactly who was paying what, and when. You'd discussed, argued, compromised, and accepted and you figured that the most stressful part of the split was behind you.
Then COVID-19 hit.
Perhaps you've lost your job or are working fewer hours. Perhaps you're running your own business and the pandemic has severely hit your bottom line. Perhaps it's your spouse whose income has been affected.
Whatever your situation, your carefully-thought-out, court-approved plan for spousal support and child support is no longer feasible. And even those of you whose divorce proceedings were amicable are finding the stress of the pandemic is causing tension between you.
What's the solution?
Luckily, neither spousal support nor child support agreements are set in stone: if either party can demonstrate a significant change in circumstances, the court may allow changes to the agreed plan.
However, relying on the courts to modify your agreement might not be the best idea right now. While some courts have resumed — and some are offering virtual hearings — there is still a huge backlog from earlier in the year when courts were closed to all but the most serious of cases and you could face major delays.
It would also be impossible to predict the outcome of a court case. Of course, you can never be certain which way a judge will rule, but in these circumstances we don't even have previous, similar cases to guide us, since we've never experienced a crisis on this scale.
Given the time delays, the risk factor and, of course, and the expense of a court case (the last thing your finances need right now!), you might find that mediation offers a cheaper, more timely, and less confrontational way to find a temporary solution to your financial dilemma.
Making mediation work for you.
If you do decide to opt for mediation to help you navigate your spousal support and child support responsibilities during the pandemic, there are a few things to consider that'll help you come to an agreement that works for everyone, both in the short and the long term.
Set clear boundaries.
Boundaries are vital; all parties should understand and agree that any amendments to the current support plans are temporary and should not be used as leverage in any post-pandemic negotiations.
If ever there was a time for outside-of-the-box thinking, this is it! So consider solutions that you'd never have dreamt of pre-COVID.
For instance, if your separation was amicable, could you arrange to move back in with each other on a temporary basis? You'll potentially save small fortune on rent/mortgage payments and childcare and you might find it easier for both parents to spend time with your children, particularly if you're trying to limit the time you spend on public transport or with other households right now, or if your state still has some form of Stay-at-Home order in place.
Another idea: could one party step up their childcare duties to allow the other parent to find alternative work?
If those options aren't feasible, are there other things you can try to boost your finances? Eating in more often, cancelling unused gym memberships, refinancing property, undertaking your own property maintenance instead of paying someone else to do it…
Remember that compromise is essential.
I know this can be frustrating. After all, you thought you were done with divorce negotiations and all of the compromises that go along with it. And with the background stress of the pandemic, making further sacrifices can seem even harder.
Try to cushion the blow by focusing on the bigger picture — like prioritizing your children and their emotional wellbeing or moving forward with your spouse in a way that promotes peace rather than conflict.
Keep an open mind.
Are you sick of people reminding you that these are "unprecedented times"? Me too! But then, these ARE unprecedented times and it's worth bearing that in mind for two reasons.
The first is to encourage you to keep an open mind — yes, you're going to have to make further compromises, and yes, it totally sucks. But try to approach sessions with your ex with an attitude of "I'll think about it" rather than a straight up, "no". Give yourself time to consider the options and think about how you could make things work in the short term.
Because that's the other thing about this period: it won't last forever. The compromises you're making won't last forever. The hardship won't last forever.
And by approaching the situation with a desire to find the best solution for everyone, you set yourself up for a more peaceful future with your ex and your children when we eventually emerge from the shadow of COVID-19.
If the pandemic has made your spousal and child support agreements difficult to uphold, I'm here to help you find a realistic and reasonable way through. I'm currently offering virtual mediation — find out more or book an appointment.