The current news cycle is teeming with ominous reports of potential long-lasting negative economic impact from the continuing Covid-19 pandemic.
Large retailers and service companies, such as Hertz-Rent-A-Car, JC Penney, Neiman Marcus, and others have filed for Bankruptcy protection. WBUR recently reported that 38,000 new unemployment claims were filed in Massachusetts the week prior to May 21, 2020.
Attorney Alexandra Celli of DiPiano Family Law Group, PC recently blogged about the legal standards pertaining to modification actions in Massachusetts Family Law cases.
Perhaps the most important takeaway regarding filing a complaint for modification is that retroactive relief is unavailable. While the courts may grant a petitioner relief back to the date that the complaint for modification was served upon the other party, relief for requests for modification prior to service of the complaint is largely unavailable.
Throughout my career as a family law litigator I have encountered many clients and cases where a party waited to file a complaint for modification, using assets or credit to pay financial obligations such as child support and/or alimony to the other party after a material change in circumstances, such as involuntary job loss or illness, had occurred. Often, clients waited because they thought that the change in circumstances – the job loss – would be short-lived and that the prior rate of income would soon be restored. When it became apparent that the decreased income was to prevail or to be permanent, the client then sought to file a complaint for modification, but was not able to recover the sums paid prior to service of the complaint on the other party, resulting in significant and long-lasting financial distress.
Worse, is the self-help client who attempts to negotiate a temporary decrease on payments with the other spouse, which, even if in writing that is notarized, may not be enforceable in court. (See, e.g. Joan M. Quinn v. Sean J. Quinn, 49 Mass. App. Ct. 144 (2000) (An agreement between parents relating to child support, made subsequent to the entry of their divorce judgment and without court approval, for less than the support ordered by the court, did not constitute a defense to a complaint for contempt, in light of G. L. c. 119A, s. 13(a)). http://masscases.com/cases/app/49/49massappct144.html)
Understandably, the idea of hiring an attorney to file a complaint for modification at a time when a person has lost a job, or has experienced a reduction in their income, may be daunting to many. However, the cost of not properly pursuing a complaint for modification at, or near the event that gives rise to the action can be much more financially devastating than putting it off.
If you have been affected by the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney to consider your options as soon as a change in circumstances has occurred.
DiPiano Family Law Group, P.C. is offering video appointments to those in need of a family law consultation. Our professionals may be reached at 978-877-5159 and will assist you in scheduling your consultation.