Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals have seen a change to their income for a series of reasons including: reduced hours, redundancy, pay cuts, furlough leave or a reduction in self-employed income.
For those who pay either Spousal Maintenance or Child Maintenance, this can be a particularly worrying time as their ability to meet those outgoings becomes more difficult. For those receiving payments there may be anxiety as to whether payments will still be made.
If your income has been reduced as a consequence of COVID-19, it is essential that you address the issue of maintenance sooner rather than later. If you make payments on either an agreed basis or there is a Court Order in place, it remains imperative that you communicate with your ex-partner or spouse in order to try and reach an agreement going forward.
If Child Maintenance is being paid through the Child Maintenance Service rather than by direct agreement between you, it is essential that you contact them as soon as possible so that they can re-assess your child maintenance figure. If you pay child maintenance in accordance with a Court Order made less than 12 months ago or Spousal Maintenance as part of a Court Order, then you will be in breach of that Order if you are unable to make the payments. You should still try to reach an agreement outside of Court first and foremost, however.
It is possible to make an application to Court to vary an existing Order due to a change in your ability to pay, or an application to enforce the Order if you do not receive funds, however this is costly and should be a last resort. The best advice is to try open communication and negotiation first, if at all possible.
If you need to make changes to the arrangements that are in place then be prepared to share your financial information, providing evidence of that change, for example in the form of a letter from your employer confirming the reduction in your income and to show that you have mitigated your loss as much as possible
It may be difficult to communicate with your ex-spouse, in which case you may benefit from assistance in trying to reach agreement. It is often advisable and sensible to seek the assistance of a trained Mediator who can assist you in having meaningful discussions with a view to resolving matters between you.
This is a worrying time for all, regardless of whether you are the person receiving funds and are concerned that your ex will not be able to make the usual payments or you are the payer and are struggling to meet your financial obligations. Acknowledging this can be helpful in progressing discussions. If you do reach an agreement to alter the payments make sure that the agreement between you is clear and documented.
In these unprecedented and uncertain times, communication, empathy and understanding will be critical to reaching workable financial arrangements.