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The impact of the federal shutdown on child support payments

The ramifications of the recent federal government shutdown may last for some time for furloughed employees and their families. Among those who could face legal issues in addition to financial ones are parents who pay child support.

Many federal employees struggled during the shutdown to make ends meet -- let alone continue to make child support payments -- as they missed two paychecks. Those parents most at risk of contempt of court actions and fines are the ones who had already missed a payment or gotten behind on what they owe.

Some parents went to court to seek child support modifications. While the shutdown was over before hearings were even scheduled in many cases, one attorney notes that it's better to file a request for a modification before you've missed a payment than to wait until later. In some jurisdictions, you can't request a modification after you've missed a payment.

People who work in the state agencies charged with enforcing child support orders understand the circumstances that these federal workers were facing. In Maryland, which is home to many federal employees, state officials have instructed local offices to suspend or limit their enforcement efforts for parents impacted by the shutdown.

However, the temporary loss of child support hit custodial parents hard. Florida is home to many people in the Coast Guard who were impacted by the shutdown. One woman whose ex-husband is a member of the Coast Guard serving overseas says that going without alimony and child support for a month meant a 25 percent cut in her monthly household income. Because she isn't a federal employee or the current spouse of one, she says she didn't qualify for assistance that was being offered to those impacted by the shutdown.

If you are paying child or spousal support (or both), and you experience a significant change in your income for any reason, it's wise to consult with your attorney as soon as possible. Don't wait until you've had to miss a payment or pay less than the ordered amount. Even if you work out an agreement with your former spouse, you should ask the court for a modification to your child support order to protect you from any adverse actions.

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