The coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented and unforeseen situation where significant numbers of people face the prospect of a reduction in their wages, being placed on furlough for a period of time, or indeed are at risk of redundancy, or of their business no longer remaining viable.
It goes without saying that this is an enormous source of concern to anyone affected, but for some individuals, such a situation also leads to additional concerns about how this will affect the payment of maintenance for their former spouses.
I have been contacted by a number of clients seeking clarification regarding their maintenance obligations in any of these circumstances.
It is important to note at the outset that where maintenance has been recorded in a court order (whether by consent or otherwise), then this must be paid until the amount is varied, whether by agreement or further order. In the event of non-payment, arrears will accrue until there is a variation. It is therefore important to ensure that any issues are identified and dealt with promptly.
In an ever-changing landscape where there is little certainty at present, it is difficult to speak in absolute terms, but some principles and guidance are set out below for those who find themselves in a difficult financial position and unable to meet their spousal maintenance obligations.
Communication is key
Keeping your former partner up to date with your situation to the best of your ability is crucial. This will be an enormous source of worry to a person receiving maintenance and honest conversations at an early stage may provide reassurance and enable your former spouse to investigate the options that may be available to them to temporarily supplement their income.
Investigate your options
The government have announced a package of financial measures designed to assist in these difficult times. It is important at an early stage to investigate the options available to you. The Family Court would expect both parties to utilise any assistance available to them in considering any application to vary maintenance and it is likely to take a dim view of a party who has not availed themselves of assistance to which they are entitled.
A temporary solution
It is to be hoped that this pandemic will pass and life can return to ‘normal’ in a few months. As a result, former spouses should bear in mind that whilst they may need to work together to find a temporary solution to current difficulties, this should be reviewed at regular intervals. Once again, this means that communication is key.
Try to reach an agreement
We would encourage all of our clients to endeavour to reach an agreement with their former spouse. A willingness to work together to find a solution could save both parties the considerable anxiety and expense that litigation almost inevitably creates. However, it is important to ensure that any such agreement is appropriately documented and, if appropriate, the approval of the Court sought.
The payment of maintenance for the benefit of children is governed by the Child Maintenance Service (“CMS”). The maintenance obligation is assessed by reference to the paying parent’s income.
In the event that a paying parent is notified they will receive a reduced wage, be placed on furlough or made redundant, we would advise clients in the first instance to consult the online calculator provided by the CMS to calculate their obligation based on their new income. The next step would be to contact their co-parent and provide a copy of the new calculation and try to reach an agreement regarding the payment.
If you pay or receive spousal or child maintenance and have any questions, then a member of the Family team will be able to assist you.
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