When politics and reality collide - there is no escaping the serious impact - and the things we could never have imagined having to prepare for!
What happens to child support orders in a Government shutdown? An especially pertinent question because there is no precedent for a Federal shutdown that has gone on this long. The answer is - there is no answer. But let us frame it and ask the questions anyway. One thing is for certain the obligation is still there and your Court order is not automatically suspended- unless someone changes the law.
Approximately two pay checks ago the Federal Government shutdown because, in a nutshell, Donald J. Trump decided to hold Congress and the American people hostage to a Southern Border wall, between the United States and Mexico, insisting that Congress provide him with billions of dollars through taxpayer funds, to build the wall he had promised during his campaign, and now defying his promise that “Mexico would pay for the wall.” Our representatives in Congress are holding out because they know well that the majority of Americans, their constituents, do not approve of the wall in the first place, and certainly not that we pay for it.
In California and other States child support Court orders are the most important monthly payment a parent must make. Its significance may be said to rise above rent and mortgage in that it’s a Court Order and defying it could land one in jail, not to mention that it pays the supported children’s food and shelter. These orders can be modified when there is a material change in circumstances such as loss of job and no income.
So one question would be – is an ongoing Federal shutdown considered a material change in circumstances? Can and should people apply to State Courts for modifications so that they are not out of compliance? Will spouses uses this against ex-spouses? Will the lower earning ex-spouse suddenly be considered the higher earning ex-spouse and have to pay the other parent child support in a 50-50% custody arrangement? How would judges rule – would they suspend payments under the order and allow the supported party back payments?
There are so many more questions that arise. How will child support services be dealing with this? I for one plan to call their office to see if any policy has been established with regard to enforcement related issues.
Are the Courts creating policy? What about ongoing cases – where a ruling would be completely different if there was actual income versus no income? What precedent is there for adjudicating situations where people actually have jobs and yet are not being paid? Are people duty bound to leave their Federal job to seek a paying job to comply with the Order. Are you expected to use savings to pay child support? Are you expected to us resources ahead of your own rent and mortgage to pay spousal or child support under these circumstances? The questions go on and on….
Spousal Support Court orders carry similar obligations. However, some, depending on the Marital Settlement Agreement or how a judge ordered, may be non-modifiable, meaning that the amount and the duration for support can never be altered.
So there are many more questions emanating from the Federal shutdown – and this pertains to anyone impacted to the extent that they do not get paid as a result. Lest we forget the ripple effect of communities and small business which also depend on the federal worker feeding our economy.
However, in reflecting only on those who have stopped getting pay checks, I suggest that one communicate with one’s ex- spouse and decide a fair way to deal with the situation. However, still be alert that you may need some legal advice. And legal aid clinics may be on top of the issue. So check them out first.
It is here that I challenge the lawyers out there to offer free - pro bono counsel to Federal workers. Especially as some contentious and vengeful exes may take advantage of this situation in attempts to modify or defy orders.
My advice is not to throw tight money at lawyers – unless you are being threatened or experiencing an uncooperative ex – and to seek free counsel ahead of encountering problems. I also suggest using a third-party neutral mediator to assist in coming up with your own resolution, in a manner that does not negatively impact your legal rights.
I am offering Federal workers in the Marin County area and their ex-spouse or supported party, impacted by this, a free mediation session – to see if you can reach an agreement to mitigate confusion and uncertainty and to negotiate a plan that works for you during this time. Please reach out and I will provide the terms and constraints of my offer. I am only able to conduct 2 such mediations per week – and so will work this on a first come first serve basis.