COVID-19 Income Loss? Ways to Modify Child Support & Spousal Maintenance

May 26, 2020 | Kathleen M. Newman

The COVID-19 crisis is causing loss of income across Minnesota, which can impact the ability to pay divorce obligations. If you owe child support or spousal maintenance and you lose your job – how can you modify your obligations?  On the other hand, you may be receiving child support or spousal maintenance and you lose your job….can you get more support from your ex-spouse? Experienced attorney Kathleen M. Newman of DeWitt LLP helps clients navigate these crucial issues and offers these pointers.

  1. Basic RulesIn general, Minnesota law allows for the modification of child support and spousal maintenance where two simultaneous conditions occur: (a) there is a “substantial change in circumstances” (e.g. 20% gross income decrease) that (b) causes the existing support obligation to be “unreasonable or unfair” (e.g. income change).

    If the payor’s financial condition worsens, then this may merit a decrease, suspension or termination of the obligations.  Conversely, these obligations can be increased where the recipient’s financial condition worsens. However, while child support can always be modified, if the spousal maintenance award is subject to a “Karon Waiver” it cannot be modified no matter what the change is in either party’s financial situation. 
  2. Seek an Agreement: If your financial circumstances change because of job loss, for instance, consider contacting your ex-spouse to request a modification of the payments. Provide specifics concerning your changed circumstances and explain how they justify a modification. If you reach an agreement, it must be put in writing, signed by both parties, filed with the court, and signed by a judge. This agreement is known as a Stipulation and Order. Any other form of agreement may not be legally enforceable, including confirming text messages or emails. If you are not comfortable contacting your ex-spouse, your attorney can do the negotiating for you.
  3. No Mutual Agreement Reached: If an agreement is not reached then you will need to file a motion and supporting papers as well as other documents, including paystubs, termination letters, tax records, and related items with the court. At this point it is often essential to hire an experienced family law attorney to prepare these papers and to represent you in court. Keep in mind the court will only change the obligation amount from the date the motion is filed with the court (i.e. not back to the date of the income change), so it is critical that the motion be filed promptly.

Take-away: Income loss, whether from COVID-19 or from other causes, can dramatically impact a party’s ability to pay divorce obligations or conversely, increase a recipient’s needs for support or maintenance. Attorney Kathleen M. Newman of DeWitt LLP compassionately and effectively helps parties modify these obligations to fit changed circumstances. Please click here to schedule a consultation to review the specifics of your situation.


Minn. Stat. §518A.39, Subd. 2.