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    COVID doesn't justify modification to a support agreement.

    COVID doesn’t justify modification to support agreement.

    When a party who is paying alimony or child support wants to modify their payment obligations, they typically have to prove a change in circumstances justifying such an order. In most states, this requires a showing that whatever change has occurred has made it significantly harder for the paying spouse to support themselves and that this situation is both real and permanent.

    COVID-19, however, has proven to be a massive disruption to this typically straightforward calculus, as courts have had to grapple with the reality of the pandemic’s impact on people’s incomes. For example, what may have seemed like temporary losses of income in the early stages of the pandemic have often continued. So should courts now be viewing COVID-related disruptions as permanent? A recent case from New Jersey may provide some guidance on the issue.

    In that case, Jeffrey Gerstel and his wife Mia divorced in 2009 after 12 years of marriage and three children. Jeffrey was ordered to pay $3,600 a month in child support. In 2017, Gerstel’s obligation was increased to $4,500 per month because his income as a physician had increased. It was modified back downward soon afterward when he took physical custody of the couple’s oldest daughter.

    Weeks into the pandemic, Gerstel, who had moved to Florida not long before, sought a further reduction, citing a decreased caseload due to the pandemic, lower medical reimbursement rates in Florida and an inability to find other employment.

    A family court judge denied his request, deciding that several months of pandemic-related reductions didn’t constitute permanent changed circumstances. Gerstel appealed, but a New Jersey appellate court upheld the lower court’s ruling, finding that the judge exercised “sound discretion” under the circumstances.

    Of course this is just one decision from one state based on a situation from early in the pandemic. It’s possible that someone still feeling the effects of the pandemic more than two years later could get a different result. If you are dealing with pandemic-related economic challenges that continue to make it difficult to meet your support obligations, talk to a family lawyer to discuss potential options.


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    Important Laws Affecting Family Law Matters

    • Virginia Code Section 20-107.3
      This provision of Virginia law governs the manner and rules for dividing martial property upon divorce.
    • Virginia Code Section 20-108.2
      This provision of Virginia law sets forth the child support guidelines-a table of reference for determining the base monthly child support obligation.
    • Virginia Code Section 20-124.3
      This statute sets forth the factors that a court will consider in divorce proceedings, temporary proceedings, or modification proceedings to determine what custody and visitation arrangement would be best for the child or children involved.

    Child Support Calculator