The COVID-19 pandemic and shelter in place orders around the country have caused an enormous spike in unemployment that has not been seen since the Great Depression. What do you do if you have a child support order in Georgia and you’ve been laid off, lost your job, or had a pay cut? You need to file a child support modification to reduce your child support. And given the unique aspect of child support modification law in Georgia, you also need to move fast to protect yourself.
Why is Fast Action Necessary?
Why do you have to move quickly if you’ve lost your job or had your pay cut due to the COVID-19 virus or the shelter in place orders in Georgia? Because the child support modification laws in Georgia are not necessarily forgiving or friendly. But there are now two changes in Georgia child support law you need to take advantage of: (1) Based upon an involuntary loss of income you can now have your child support retroactively modified (meaning backwards in time), and (2) the prevailing party in a child support modification case may be awarded their attorney’s fees against the other party.
Under prior Georgia law, if you owed child support and lost your job at no fault of your own you could get really screwed by the system. Why? Because Georgia courts (even if the judge wanted to) had absolutely no power to retroactively modify your child support. Therefore, you lose your job, or have a reduction in income, and then retain a great attorney, go to court, and it takes 6 to 9 months to get through hearing before the court reduces your child support. However, during that 6 to 9 month period of time your child support stayed the same and you owed it! Even if you had no income at all!
Fortunately, the Georgia legislature put in a fix to this problem. Now, and only on the circumstances of involuntarily losing your job, or having a pay reduction (like Covid-19 is creating in droves), a Georgia court may now modify your child support retroactively, but ONLY FROM THE DATE YOU HAVE THE OTHER PARTY SERVED with process. Therefore, you have to act ASAP. Every week you delay costs you money.
The other benefit of the new law for persons looking to modify their child support because of loss of job or reduction in income, is that Georgia law now allows an award of attorney’s fees to the “prevailing” party in a child support modification. Therefore, whereas before the other party would fight and fight and not have to worry about paying your attorney’s fees, now, if that party is unreasonable they may not only lose on the child support modification but now pay your attorney’s fees. It is a great incentive to try to get the other party to act reasonably, making the process of child support modifications easier.
COVID-19 and Shelter in Place
The new law is perfect for loss of income due to COVID-19 and shelter in place orders. The Georgia court now has the power to modify your child support downward retroactively, back to the date the other party was served with the modification. This means you have to move now to fully protect yourself.
It’s also important to note that the new law awards attorney’s fees to the prevailing party in the child support modification. If COVID-19 or the shelter in place order has caused you to lose your job or experience a significant reduction in earnings through no fault of your own and the other party decides to fight the child support order, the court can order him or her to pay your attorney’s fees when we win.
Hope in An Uncertain Time
Child support modification cases, in my twenty years of experience, are some of the most contested and hostile cases. This new law gives hope to persons who’ve lost a job or income unexpectedly. With the COVID-19 pandemic, and the shelter in place orders, and the economic crisis, the merits of this law have become obvious. Moving quickly is imperative as any changes will only be retroactive to the date the other party is served with the notice of the modification. No Georgia court has the power to modify child support before that date.
If you’ve lost your job and are unemployed or have diminished income due to the COVID-19 crisis, or for any other reason not your fault, there is help.
If you have any questions, we’d be happy to speak with you at Shaw Law Firm. We are Atlanta, Georgia Divorce and Child Custody Lawyers. We’ve been doing this since 1995 and can help.