An all too familiar, if not overused, term to describe all thing Covid 19/Corona virus is “unprecedented.” In an attempt to avoid politics, whether any of this was foreseeable or not, there is no dispute of the absolute financial devastation that the world wide pandemic as created. The stock market has cratered, many people are out of work, businesses are closed and some may never re-open, etc. Legislation has been passed to help businesses and citizens alike, but no one knows at this point what the damage will ultimately be. (And for more information on Corona Virus Resources, our firm has a information packed resource page. One of the resources is an article written by Jessica Diamond of our group entitled “Family Support Obligations and the Covid-19 Economic Crisis. “
It seems clear that the courts are going to soon be flooded with modification motions by people who have been laid off and/or lost their jobs and/or enforcement motions by people not receiving the full amount (or any) support because their ex has had a reduction and/or elimination of income. How the courts treat this “unprecedented” catastrophe remains to be seen. Hopefully, for these people that are affected in this way, this will be short term set-back and that, when the economy re-starts and and life as we knew it resumes, they will go back to work, if not be busier than ever making up for lost time. That all remains to be seen. It will be interesting to see if Courts share the pain between both parties are just fervently enforce orders because a litigant may be able to show a substantial but not a continuing change of circumstances.
But what about people who receive alimony and child support in the form of a base amount and then additional support based upon a proportion of income? This is a not uncommon scenario for someone who is on Wall Street or otherwise has variable income based upon company performance, stock prices, values of deferred compensation, etc. In many of these cases, the bonuses and/or deferred compensation for the prior year pays out in February or March of the following year. One would expect that, given the market highs in 2019 and early 2020, people using these types of formulas, in many cases, were very happy to receive their share of the additional support in early 2020.
But what about 2021? If things continue as they have been and the economy does not fully recover, it is not inconceivable that bonuses in 2021 for 2020, will be less. What about doctors and dentists that have not been able to work because of the shut down orders? What about lawyers who cannot litigate because courts for all intents and purposes are closed (not actually closed but not open for trials, etc.)? Whether or not they pay support based upon a formula, their income picture for 2020 may look markedly different than their 2019 income. Business owners that had to close their business and/or whose businesses involved hospitality, conventions, travel, will likely have much different financial statements in 2020 than in 2019. And what of things like college and unreimbursed expenses divided in proportion to income. Will there be a need to adjust percentages based upon the financial crisis created by the corona virus
In any event, the pain regarding the financial impact of the corona virus will likely be felt in 2020, 2021 and beyond. How people negotiate their divorces will likely also be impacted too. Will people negotiate and litigate based upon economic reality or be opportunistic if the law associated with the “old normal” benefits them? Will the business owner in a so-so marriage decide to get out now while their income and value of their business may be lower? This all remains to be seen, but our Family Law Practice Group at Fox Rothschild can assist navigate this “new normal” (another overused phrase.)
Eric Solotoff is the editor of the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and the Co-Chair of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Lawyer and a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys, Eric is resident in Fox Rothschild’s Morristown, New Jersey office though he practices throughout New Jersey. You can reach Eric at (973) 994-7501, or firstname.lastname@example.org.