Will My Alimony Payments Change Due to COVID-19?

The global pandemic caused by COVID-19 has disrupted many lives. The downsizing and closing of businesses across the country has resulted in thousands of Americans losing their jobs. These financially uncertain times can present unique legal challenges if you have been court-ordered to pay or receive alimony.

If you have had to take pay cuts, reduce your working hours, or lost your job due to the pandemic, it is important to understand how COVID-19 could lead to changes in alimony. Because our team has over 35 combined years of exclusive family law experience, we are prepared to address any concerns you may have about your alimony payments in these uncertain times.

Modifying or Terminating Alimony in Massachusetts

The first and extremely important issue to determine is whether your alimony payment survived or merged into your Divorce Judgment. If your payments are only pursuant to a temporary order within the initial divorce filing, this is not relevant to you and you can definitely attempt to modify your order. However, if you were previously divorced, if your alimony order survived the judgment of divorce, you cannot change it for any reason. If your alimony order merged with the judgment, then you are able to modify the order after showing a significant change in circumstances. The negative financial effects of COVID-19 will most likely meet this burden.

If you do not know whether your Separation or Divorce Agreement survived or merged into the final judgment, feel free to give us a call. One of our attorneys can usually tell you pretty quickly whether the language in your Agreement allows you to seek a modification.

Massachusetts General Law Chapter 208 §37 allows a court to revise a judgment for alimony. To be eligible for the modification or termination of your alimony order, you must be able to show that there has been a material or substantial change in circumstances since the original order. A loss of income can constitute a material change.

In Massachusetts, the government closed or substantially limited many businesses’ operations due to the COVID-19 quarantine. If the pandemic negatively impacted your job, and you had no control over the reduction in your income, modification or termination of your alimony may be warranted.

What Can the Court Do if One Party Cannot Make Alimony Payments Due to COVID-19?

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, most Massachusetts courts are slowly reopening, scheduling hearings via video conference, and attempting to operate as close to normal as possible. Still, because this crisis is so unique, there is not a designated way to get your case before the Court other than filing a complaint for modification. If it is an urgent issue, you can file a motion for temporary orders and also request a telephone hearing as that is usually the fastest way to get your case heard by a Judge. It’s important to realize though that you cannot seek a retroactive change in your support payments until the other party has been served. This is one reason it is better to act sooner than later as it helps protect you financially. However, a court may alter spousal support payments because of COVID-19 in a few ways other than terminating the order.

Temporary Reduction

A court could grant a temporary reduction in alimony payments and set a date to review the case to see what happens in the future. If the parties’ respective incomes have returned to normal by that time, the alimony could revert to the original amount.

Suspension of Collections

The court could keep the alimony the same but suspend enforcement and collection efforts. Any missed payments could be made payable at a later date. This will allow you to pay less during the COVID-19 crisis if you are the payor. If you are the payee, this may ensure that you still receive all the alimony you are entitled to under the court’s order. 

Think About Severance and Unemployment

Even if you were laid off your job, that may not be enough to sustain the relief you are seeking with a reduction in your alimony payments. If you have received a severance package, that income will be considered. There are some cases where people have received more in unemployment than they were earning previously or they are collecting unemployment on top of receiving a lump sum severance payment. In those cases, there’s a chance your alimony payments could go up rather than down. This is why it’s impossible to have an experienced attorney review your particular situation and provide you with the possibilities of your best- and worst-case scenarios if you seek a modification. That way you can make an informed decision of what to do.

Speak with an Attorney about How Your Alimony Payments May Change Due to the Pandemic

If the COVID-19 crisis has negatively impacted your employment and you are unable to make your spousal support payments as a result, discuss your situation with an attorney at O’Connor Family Law. Alternatively, if you have not been receiving your alimony due to the global health crisis, our team can help. For more information about how your alimony payments may change due to COVID-19, call today.

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