With New Jersey on the growing list of states telling people to stay in their home, many men and fathers are calling to ask about their support payments, visitation rights, and those of their ex-spouse when the dad is the custodial parent. When all of the issues surrounding a divorce were negotiated and agreed to by couples that were splitting up, nobody foresaw a situation like what we all are dealing with today.
These are typical of the many calls my colleagues and I are receiving at New Jersey’s law firm for men and fathers:
“I’ve been laid off because of the virus and can’t afford the spousal and child support payments I’ve been making.”
“Even though I work at home as a consultant and don’t come in contact with my clients or other people, my ex won’t let me have the kids on my weekends.”
“My ex and the kids live in Pennsylvania, which I agreed to, I’m supposed to have the children on school holidays and vacations. But she won’t let me pick them up and drive them back to my place during the extended school closing.”
“I’m the custodial parent and wonder if I must let the children spend weekends with their mother.”
These are legitimate questions adding to the worry so many people have in a period of great uncertainty, personal concerns, medical risks, and economic stress.
Adjusting New Jersey Spousal and Child Support Payments
New Jersey’s Family Law statutes allow asking a court to change support payments under certain specific situations:
To have payments reduced, a divorced father in New Jersey needs to demonstrate that there has been a substantial change in their financial circumstances. Typically, this involves losing a job, having a salary reduction, or an illness such as the coronavirus leaves the father unable to work and his income is lower as a result.
But you cannot just call your ex and say, “I can’t pay you this month and maybe not next month, either.” You must apply to the court to ask that spousal or child support be reduced. We can include copies of a notice from your employer or your application for unemployment insurance as evidence of a changed financial situation.
However, if your employer is allowing you to use accrued vacation time and unused sick days before ending your salary, it may be advisable to hold off filing with the court until your paychecks stop.
Disputes Over Visitation
There is no cut-and-dried answer to the thorny question of what to do about visitation and having vacation time with the children.
The first thing we recommend fathers in New Jersey do is attempt to negotiate a temporary new schedule regarding visitation. For instance, you could offer to wear a mask when you pick up the children and while they are in your care so you don’t pass along anything you may have picked up even if you have no symptoms.
If this isn’t possible or does not work out, we can ask for help from the court.
Keep in mind the first thing a judge will want to determine is what is in the best interests of the children which are mandated in the law. Because of the virulent nature of the coronavirus, this will include inquiring into any possible medical ramifications of the kids being in your care if even for just a weekend.
By the same token, if a father is a custodial parent he has a right to ask a family court to modify visitation if the mother is at risk of being infected. For example, one father was concerned about letting the mother take the children on her weekend because she works in a job in New York City that had her coming in frequent contact with the public as the pandemic was taking hold.
What we negotiated with her attorney was that she’d forego weekend visits for 21 days of self-isolation to ensure that she had not become infected. Likewise, we reached a similar accommodation on behalf of a father when the custodial mother told her ex he could not have his weekend with the youngsters.
All of us are in uncharted waters as COVID-19 takes hold and locks down a huge percent of the nation’s population. Each situation is different and new. But thanks to our electronic infrastructure, the lawyers for men and fathers at the Micklin Law Group continue to be in touch with each other and the courts, and are available to discuss your specific situation with you.
Question From One of Our Readers:
How can I convince my ex that during this pandemic it’s for her best for our daughter to stay with me?
You are obligated to follow the Court’s Order. Neither you nor your ex is permitted to unilaterally alter parenting time, except with a Court Order or with your ex’s consent. Otherwise, you may be sanctioned by the Court. The current COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. You should try to coordinate parenting time with your ex by verifying he has taken all the necessary precautions set forth by the CDC and the WHO. If you are not comfortable that the precautions are satisfactory, you should speak with an experienced family law attorney and bring an action before the Court.