The COVID-19 crisis has been hard on just about everyone. From dealing with additional stress at home to the unspeakable tragedy of losing a loved one too soon, the virus outbreak has impacted us all in many different ways.
For divorced parents, the COVID-19 crisis presents a number of particular challenges. Many divorced parents are struggling to keep up with their financial obligations, and at the same time, many are struggling to maintain their current custody and visitation schedules. While Illinois’ stay-at-home order has been lifted, with summer here and with many parents working as many hours as they can, many parents are finding themselves in an unmanageable situation with seemingly few options available.
6 Options for Managing Family and Financial Stress During the COVID-19 Crisis
While everyone’s circumstances are different, there are some potential ways that divorced parents in Illinois can manage their family and financial stress during the COVID-19 crisis. Here are some thoughts from Gurnee and Lake County, Illinois family lawyer Deanna Bowen:
1. Review Your Household Budget
If you are facing financial strain as a result of the novel corona virus pandemic, one option is to review your household budget. Are there expenses you can cut? Or, are you spending more on unnecessary items (such as coffee drinks or extra clothing) than you think? For many divorced parents, while cutting expenses might not be ideal, it could provide some measure of financial relief. There are lots of resources out there that you can use for guidance, such as this recent article on Forbes.com: Retooling Your Budget for COVID-19? 5 Smart Steps to Take Now.
2. Take Advantage of Programs and Benefits that are Available
In response to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, the federal government and the State of Illinois have implemented several new programs and are offering several new benefits that can help relieve financial strain for divorced parents. While most of these programs and benefits are subject to eligibility criteria, if you qualify, it is certainly worth considering whether taking advantage of them makes sense for your personal situation. Some pre-existing laws may provide relief as well. For example:
- Federal Stimulus Payments – By now, most eligible taxpayers have received their COVID-19 stimulus payments. If you have not received yours, you should make sure it is still coming. Parents are entitled to additional stimulus payments of up to $500 per child; and, as a divorced parent, you will need to determine who (you or your former spouse or partner) is entitled to receive these funds.
- Income Tax Filing Extensions – If you are stressed about Tax Day (which the IRS and the Illinois Department of Revenue moved back to July 15), you can file for an extension. However, it is important to note that this is an extension for filing your returns only—you must still pay what you think you owe by July 15.
- Penalty–Free Retirement Withdrawals – If you qualify, you can take a “coronavirus-related distribution” from your IRA or 401(k) without the usual 10-percent penalty. Of course, taking money from your retirement savings has drawbacks as well; and, if this is something you want to consider, you should consult with your financial advisor.
- Employment–Related Benefits – If you are out of work and you have not yet filed for unemployment, then you may be able to file for benefits right away and receive the current additional $600-per-week payment (though this additional payment is currently set to end at the beginning of August). Some divorced parents will also be eligible to take paid, job-protected leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA).
3. Consider Seeking a Child Support or Alimony Modification
Another potential option for managing financial stress during the pandemic is to seek child support or alimony modification. Both payors and recipients can file for modifications under appropriate circumstances, although the grounds for seeking a modification in Illinois are somewhat limited. If you have lost your job (or a significant portion of your income) due to the virus, you should absolutely discuss your options for seeking child support or alimony modification with an attorney.
4. Consider Seeking a Child Custody Modification
If your current parenting time arrangement is not working for you during the COVID-19 crisis, you may be able to file a petition to modify your child custody order as well. Here, however, it is important to understand that all custody-related decisions in Illinois need to be made based upon the best interests of the child (or children) involved. Upending your child’s routine might not be worth it if you are able to manage in the short-term; but, if you are struggling significantly or your work schedule has changed, then it may be in everyone’s best interests for you to seek a child custody modification.
5. Work with Your Former Spouse or Partner to Find a Temporary Solution
As an alternative to filing a modification petition in court, it could also potentially make sense to have a discussion with your former spouse or partner. Is it possible that you could amicably work out a temporary solution? If so, this could be the way to go, and an experienced family law attorney will be able to guide you through the steps you need to take in order to make your agreement legally enforceable.
6. Seek Professional Help
Regardless of your specific circumstances, if you have questions or concerns, you owe it to yourself to seek professional help. These are difficult times, and you do not have to make challenging or confusing decisions on your own. Our firm is operating during the COVID-19 crisis, and we are here to help you in any way we can. To speak with an experienced family law attorney, schedule a free consultation today.
Schedule a Free Consultation with Gurnee and Lake County, IL Divorce Attorney Deanna J. Bowen
If you would like to speak with Gurnee and Lake County, IL divorce attorney Deanna Bowen about your situation, we invite you to contact us. To schedule an appointment at your convenience, please call 847-623-4002 or inquire online today.