Can the Courts Help Single Parents with COVID 19
In my experience in the field of family law there is usually one parent who is the “go-to” parent; the one who stays home with the kids when they are sick from school, arranges and goes to the children’s doctor appointments, ensures their homework is completed on time and transports to all the children’s birthday parties, sports events and other after school activities.
In this time of COVID-19, the “go-to” parent is likely the one who was lucky enough to change their schedule or work from home, and dealt with the frustrations of “home schooling” their children. During the last few months, I found that most of the go-to parents were single mothers, sacrificing work (in other words income) so their kids could be educated during the spring of 2020. They may have had much more custodial time then the other parent, provided childcare, sacrificed their pay as well as their sleep, but did not receive help from the other parent, whether it be financially or with assistance with the education of their child.
Although I have just as many fathers as mothers as clients who are the “go to” parent, most sources state that the most financially impacted persons during this COVID crisis were (and still are) single mothers; they sacrificed their jobs or were “furloughed” from jobs which usually paid lower wages then their male counterpart, in order to stay home with their children when the schools shut down.
Does COVID-19 Affect Child Support?
When the state legislature enacted the Idaho Child Support Guidelines (ICSG) no one could have predicted that a temporary emergency increase in child support might assist single parents when they could not work through no fault of their own.
The current ICSG provides that child support is based on two primary factors, that being the combined gross income of both parents and the number of overnights the child(ren) spends with each parent. Further, if there is a material change in circumstances effecting income or custodial time, the court allows a modification of custody and/or child support from the original orders if a modification is in the best interest of the child.
The effect of COVID-19 on your family may cause a material change in circumstances. In my personnel life I know of more than one family in which one parent refused to have the children for their custodial time during the week (they had a week on week off schedule) so that parent would not have to home school during last spring, but the “go to” parent received no financial compensation for the increase in custodial time. The “go-to” parent stayed home with the children, worked remotely at odd hours to stay employed ( 4am till 9:00am and after 9:00 pm just to keep their job). The “go-to” parent was one of the more fortunate people that their employer was flexible to allow working remotely from home during odd hours. But what about those other parents who could not work from home and had to sacrifice their job to school their children? It is a hard choice between a making a living and educating your children. Will this become the new normal?
How Can Child Support Be Modified in Light of COVID
The ICSG allows a modification of child support if 1) there is a substantial and material change in circumstances, and 2) it benefits the child(ren). What if school does not fully re-open in fall of 2020? Or is closed again? Can there be an increase in child support for the parent who stays home, home schools their children and sacrifices their job in its entirety or for reduced hours and wages? (Note at the time of this writing it is unknown how or if Idaho schools will open in the fall of 2020.)
In a case I took to trial since the COVID-19 virus struck, upon presentation of the facts and evidence (see my Article titled “How to Get What You want – Show Me the Evidence!” published in the Coeur d’ Alene Press 7/26/2020), my client prevailed by clearly showing she was the “go-to” parent for the life of the children. The Judge took into consideration that both parents were impacted by the COVID-19 shut down and that their jobs and income had been, at that time, temporarily and negatively affected. The judge also considered the additional time the “go-to” parent had with the children. The parties were instructed that in the event of a more permanent change of income, the parties could modify the judge’s ruling on the amount of child support that is to be paid to the “go to’ parent. The “go-to” parent’s efforts were both acknowledged and rewarded by the court.
This positive outcome may not happen in every case, as each case turns on the provable facts, evidence and now the surrounding circumstances such as the effect of Covid-19. However, if there is a material change in circumstances from the time the original custody and child support order was issued, such as a dramatic increase in custodial time and/or a significantly reduced income through no fault of the wage earner, parents likely have a cause of action to modify any previous custody and child support orders. A modification could assist the “go-to” parent with the difficult job they may have during this unique time in our community.
Merrilee A. Parr is an experienced family law attorney serving the legal community since 1997. Each case is unique and circumstances affecting the community may be a reason to modify custody and child support orders.
Ms. Parr can be reached to set an appointment for a consultation at (208) 667-1227. The Law Office of Merrilee A. Parr follows the Idaho Governor’s and the CDC’s recommendations for health and safety precautions.
Disclaimer: The above is not intended as legal advice and does not establish any attorney client relationship.