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Understanding The COVID-19 Impact On Child Custody And Support Issues In Maryland

The current COVID-19 crisis and the closure of the courts for all but emergency issues has had an understandable and predictable impact on family law issues. The most common issues being the impact to custody/access schedules and child support payments.

How will the courts respond to the crisis?

No one knows the long term impact. However, in the short term the court has issued orders making clear that only (true) EMERGENCY matters will be considered until the courts reopen. Even then, the courts will have to clear the large backlog of filings made during the closure, reset cases that were previously scheduled during the closure, and try to get back to a “normal schedule” for a system that is normally full without the current crisis.

COVID-19/Corona Closures impact on child support

All Maryland court orders for child support stay in effect until modified by a Maryland Court or other court of competent jurisdiction. That means a parent ordered to pay child support must pay the ordered amount until the court modifies the amount of the order. Any amount ordered, and not changed by later order, will result in a child support arrearage that will have to be paid back. That is regardless of the fact that the payor parent has a loss of income or if a major expense (work related child daycare) is still being incurred. The good news is that a payor parent can request the court to modify that amount and have the amount reduced back to the date of filing. The bad news is that one cannot request a modification to a date prior to a request being filed. In other words, if you file a request to modify you can request a modification back to that date of filing even if you do not get into a court hearing for months. If an arrearage was created, it can be reduced or nullified back to the date you made your filing. However, if you delay in filing, you are not able to request the court to modify/reduce/nullify the ordered support to a date before you file.

Does it make sense to file for child support modification at this time?

That depends on your current assumptions and situation. There are costs for filing the request with or without attorney help. One must consider the monthly amount ordered versus some of the below considerations:

  1. Is your loss of income permanent, long term, or expected to be only short-term?
  2. Is there a major expense that will not be incurred that would impact the child support calculation, like daycare?
  3. If the major expense is not incurred, for how long will the expense not be incurred (until the fall or longer)?
  4. Does it make economic sense to file for modification at this time to protect against an arrearage buildup as explained above?

If a parent is uncertain about the above assumptions or believes the impact may be long term, that parent should consult an attorney to discuss their specific facts and determine if a request for modification should be made at this time to protect against an adverse economic impact.

What if the other parent is not allowing me to visit with the child(ren) under our current order?

The current crisis has many parents fearful of complying with court orders as the order applies to access and custody issues. With the ever changing orders from the state and federal governments on sheltering in place or travel (in or out of state), this question should be discussed with an attorney to review the custody order in place and specific facts as it regards the various forms of access and custody (legal/residential) and the current state of state and federal orders and advice before deciding if any action could, or should, be taken to stop or alter access schedules. An attorney can also be helpful in discussing alternative means of dispute resolution short of court action.