COVID-19: Child Custody & Support Modifications
COVID-19 has changed life as we know it for millions of Americans and billions more internationally. For divorced couples and their families, adjusting to the new normal comes with growing pains and increased difficulty. While it is always best to remain civil and cooperative when co-parenting, COVID-19 brings unique challenges that may require modification of existing custody and child support orders. If this sounds familiar and you are currently considering changes to an existing parenting plan, don’t hesitate to reach out to an attorney for help.
Modifications Must Be in Writing
While you might maintain a strong working relationship with your ex-spouse, and maybe a handshake agreement regarding small changes would suffice, any major decisions regarding child custody and support orders must be made in writing and approved by a judge. Unfortunately, some parents rely on the status quo and assume that the other parent will continue to uphold what has become habitual but is not enforceable by law. For example, if you are an essential worker and your work schedule has changed to frequent overnights, you might need to revise your custody schedule from weekdays and weeknights, to a few weekdays and the weekends. Or, if your ex-spouse is engaging in reckless behavior, not adhering to safety protocols, or is suffering from COVID-19 themselves, it may be necessary to obtain an emergency custody order modifying joint physical custody to primary physical custody.
It is crucial that you do not proceed using only an oral agreement with your ex-spouse, even if they have the best intentions and you do not foresee issues with the existing parenting plan. Your custody rights are only enforced if an order has been issued by a family law judge. If you and your ex-spouse agree to changes, you can draft a joint motion for modification that the court will approve upon receipt. However, if there is discord about modification, a petition must be filed with the courts for a hearing. Florida family courts in the Tampa and St. Petersburg regions are currently conducting hearings via virtual teleconferencing and in person. Emergency petitions are filed with the Hillsborough County Clerk of Court.
Emergency Hearings for Holiday Visitation
In addition, if tensions are high due to holiday plans and conflicting custody schedules, you can request a hearing with a family law judge. If your spouse usually has custody on Thanksgiving, or if both parents split the day, it might not be feasible this year due to the risk of contracting COVID-19, but the other parent may not agree with alternate arrangements. It’s crucial that you act immediately if you are concerned about your child’s health and safety and do not wish for your child to participate in extended family gatherings this year.
Modifying Child Support Obligations
Finally, if one or both parents is currently unemployed or underemployed due to the pandemic and can no longer meet child support obligations, you must complete a new financial statement and file a modification as soon as feasible with the presiding court. Only a judge can order a child support reduction or increase. You cannot simply stop paying or pay less to your ex-spouse without a court order, and if your ex-spouse is not meeting his or her legal requirement to pay support, you don’t have to tolerate it. But, you must contact a family law attorney to pursue legal action and prepare a motion for post-divorce child support modification.
Let Us Help You Today
If you are currently struggling with child support or existing child custody arrangements, and need modifications to your parenting plan, call the attorneys at Bubley & Bubley, P.A. Our Tampa family lawyers can assist you with preparing motions for modification, communicating with your ex-spouse regarding changes and appearing for court hearings. We can also help immediately with grievances stemming from holiday plans or emergency child support modifications. Call today to discuss your potential options.