Dear Carolyn,

I lost my job due to COVID-19 and now am on unemployment. I am under a child support order to pay the mother of our two children $900 per month and I cannot do it. The money is just not there for now.

What do I do?


Carolyn Responds,

You need to file a motion with the court urgently and immediately for a reduction of your child support. It sounds like you have a substantial change in circumstances. The important fact is that the court should make the change (the reduction) retroactive to the date you file your motion to reduce child support.

How many years you have been under the child support order may be important.

  • If your existing child support order is at least three years old, and there is a difference of 15 percent or greater between the old amount and the new amount, you qualify for a new order. You have an automatic substantial change of circumstances.
  • If your existing child support order is not three years old, your attorney will be petitioning the court under North Carolina General Statutes Section 50-13.7, which states upon filing a motion with the court and a showing of changed circumstances by either party, the court can modify or vacate a child support order.

Past due child support is vested. You cannot get relief ever for any child support that vests before you file your motion for change in circumstances. Act now.

A word on what to do while your motion is pending with the court:

The courts are currently closed to hearings. (Your attorney can still file your motion, however, which protects you on the retroactivity.) You can expect a delay in getting your case heard. You are obligated to follow a court order until it is modified. However, if you cannot pay, because of impossibility, you have a defense to contempt.


Send your questions on family law and divorce matters to Ask Carolyn at, or P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro, NC 27427. Please do not put identifying information in your questions. Note that the answers in Ask Carolyn are intended to provide general legal information, and the answers are not specific legal advice for your situation. The column also uses hypothetical questions. A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need in your individual case. Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by Ask Carolyn. Ask Carolyn is be a regular column, but not necessarily weekly.