A Pandemic Economy: Modifying Spousal or Child Support Awards

Oregon’s unemployment rate has risen to a historic high of almost 15{45ef85514356201a9665f05d22c09675e96dde607afc20c57d108fe109b047b6} in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many in a state of uncertainty about how they will make ends meet. For those who are party to a child or spousal support award, a change in employment may be grounds for modifying the terms of their support award. When there has been a significant, unanticipated change in economic circumstances, the court will consider a petition to modify a child or spousal support award. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who anticipated the COVID-19 pandemic. If you have lost your job or are otherwise significantly impacted by the pandemic, you may consider requesting a child or spousal support modification.

Courts determine the child support awards using a formula based on the income of both parents as well as other factors. Because courts deviate from this formula only in extraordinary circumstances, parents who wish to modify their child support obligations should run the numbers to see if their change in income will result in a change to their child support award. The Oregon Department of Justice provides a useful calculator to help parents determine child support awards.

The guidelines for spousal support are less formulaic than those for child support. Courts will modify spousal support after a change in economic circumstances, if the modification supports the original purpose of the award. Some parties’ judgments do not specify the original purpose of the award. In those cases, the court will assume the award was based on an attempt to distribute the incomes of the parties fairly. The court may then modify the award if either party has a substantial change in income. However, if both parties have a substantial decrease in income, then the court will be less likely to modify the award because the relative position of both parties has stayed the same.

For both child and spousal support modifications the court has the authority to modify the award retroactively, but only to the date of a party’s modification request. This means if you were laid off in March or April and you do not file to modify until July, the earliest date the modification will be effective is July. Filing a motion as soon as you learn about a significant change in income is important because a retroactive award allows you to receive money for the time that motion is in court.

The first step to modifying child or spousal support is to file motion with the court and give notice to a co-parent or ex-spouse. Many courts in Oregon are currently closed or operating on limited hours due to the pandemic. If you are planning to file with your county court, you may wish to check the status of your court on the Oregon State Courts website. We encourage anyone interested in making a request for support award modification to consult an experienced family law attorney.

Emily Clark Cuellar is a litigator at Samuels Yoelin Kantor. Her practice is centered around families, and her passion is helping families navigate all the various obstacles they may face. Her practice focuses on domestic relations and fiduciary and probate litigation.