Coronavirus is making us look at every aspect of our lives, from how we socialise and exercise to how and where we work. With constant talk of hospital admission figures and mortality rates many of you are worried about raising your fears about coronavirus and financial concerns. However, whether you pay or receive either child maintenance or spousal maintenance , payments of maintenance may need to be reviewed and resolved. In this blog we look at child support, spousal maintenance and the impact of coronavirus.
Online family law and maintenance solicitors
Cheshire and Manchester based Evolve Family Law solicitors are working online to advise existing and new family law clients on all coronavirus related family law questions from child contact, help with leaving an abusive relationship during lockdown or the financial issues arising from Covid 19. If you need legal assistance call us or complete our online enquiry form to set up a video conference or telephone appointment.
Coronavirus and spousal maintenance and child support payments
When you agree to pay or to receive an amount in spousal maintenance or child support it is often assumed that the amount you are expected to pay, or that you will receive, won’t change all that much . However, whether it is spousal maintenance or child support, the amount you pay or receive in financial support can be reviewed either upwards or downwards.
Many of you are very worried about coronavirus and your jobs or fear that your income from self-employment will reduce drastically (if not disappear altogether) over the next few months. Whilst the government has assured us all that financial help is at hand, for both the employed and the self-employed, there are reports that people are confused about the eligibility rules for government help and are worried about how they can pay spousal maintenance or child support now.
If you are the person who is receiving the maintenance payment it is equally worrying as many feel that they are in an impossible position, having taken out mortgages and financial commitments, on the basis of promised or ordered spousal maintenance or child support.
Spousal maintenance orders and Covid-19
Spousal maintenance is either paid on a voluntary basis between husband and wife or civil partner or under a spousal maintenance court order.
If you are paying or receiving spousal maintenance under a court order then the first thing that you should look at is the wording of the financial court order and the spousal maintenance clause. If you are in any doubt about the wording or meaning of the spousal maintenance clause then it is best to take legal advice.
There are a number of ways in which spousal maintenance court orders can require the payment of spousal maintenance, such as:
- Joint lives spousal maintenance – spousal maintenance is payable until the death or the re-marriage of the person receiving the spousal maintenance payments
- Time limited spousal maintenance – spousal maintenance is paid for a set period of time and then stops on a date specified in the court order. In some cases, the person receiving the spousal maintenance can apply to extend the length of time that spousal maintenance is paid for but they have to apply to court to extend the length of time that spousal maintenance is paid for prior to the expiry of the order. In other court orders the spousal maintenance is said to be time limited with no option to extend the length of time that it is paid for.
Can spousal maintenance orders be changed?
Spousal maintenance orders can be changed by court order or by agreement. If your financial circumstances have changed because of coronavirus and you are paying or receiving spousal maintenance the government is urging you to try to reach an agreement with your ex-partner over spousal maintenance.
Family law solicitors say that whilst it is important, if possible, to reach an agreement over changes in spousal maintenance payments any agreement should be temporary or a holding agreement until the Covid 19 position is clearer.
Every family situation is different so you may need specialist legal advice on what to do about spousal maintenance payments. Some payments may need to stop and others may need to reduce or increase. Here are two case examples:
- A dentist is no longer able to work but because he has an employer who is continuing to pay him then the spousal maintenance can continue at the same rate for the time being. The spousal maintenance might need to reduce or stop if the employer is forced to stop the dentist’s salary or the salary is reduced to the cap set by the government coronavirus income scheme
- A National Health Service consultant is not affected financially by Covid 19 but his ex-wife has lost her job in the travel industry. Depending on her circumstances her spousal maintenance may need to increase on a temporary basis until she can get another job. If her spousal maintenance is a time limited order she may need to ask the court to extend the period of the spousal maintenance court order.
Tips on how to change spousal maintenance payments by agreement
In these highly unusual times the focus is on working together. That is the message that the government is giving when it comes to sorting out the changes to child care , spousal maintenance or child support that are required because of coronavirus.
Tips on how to change spousal maintenance payments by agreement include:
- Communicate with your ex either directly, through a trusted friend or your family solicitor. If you don’t tell your ex what is going on and be upfront about how Covid-19 has affected you financially then they will expect the spousal maintenance payments to continue
- Provide paperwork – family law solicitors say there is often an element of mistrust between separated spouses and so if you want your ex-spouse to agree to a reduction in spousal maintenance you will need to provide the supporting paperwork to show that you have lost your job or that your hours have been reduced or a bonus scheme scrapped
- Reflect on any discussions with your ex and don’t be rushed into making long term decisions. After all your ex-spouse may get a new job or the government scheme may mean that their income isn’t as badly affected as first thought. You should not agree to any major changes in the spousal maintenance order or agree to the cessation of payments and cancellation of the spousal maintenance order without first taking legal advice
- Record your agreement – if you are able to reach a spousal maintenance agreement with your ex-spouse then you need to record the agreement in case one of you changes your mind. If there is no clear recorded agreement then your ex could apply to court to enforce the spousal maintenance order and ask for payment of arrears of spousal maintenance. They may not be successful in that court application if there is a clear agreement drawn up by you (or your solicitors) that spousal maintenance is being changed temporarily and the reasons why and when spousal maintenance will be reviewed again, for example, if the payer gets a new job or a government income subsidy
- Understand the court options– it is important to know that if your ex-spouse won’t agree to a reduction or temporary stopping of spousal maintenance what your legal options are. You could apply to court to vary the spousal maintenance order to reduce or stop the payments. Your ex-spouse could apply to court for payment of arrears of spousal maintenance and to enforce the spousal maintenance order. The court decision would be based on all the circumstances of your case and the ability of the paying person to pay spousal maintenance. If you are upfront with the paperwork relating to the change in income this may make a court application to formally vary the spousal maintenance order unnecessary.
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Can child maintenance be changed?
Covid-19 and the financial fallout and economic downturn will affect child support payments as well as spousal maintenance orders. In most families child support is either paid as a voluntary arrangement between you and your ex-partner or under a child maintenance service assessment. It is rare for there to be a child support court order as the court only has limited jurisdiction to make child support orders.
Again family law solicitors are recommending that parents talk to one another about child maintenance and to see whether the child support needs to be changed because of a change in the payer’s financial circumstances. If the payments are made under a child maintenance service assessment then you may need to ask the agency to carry out a new assessment.
Online family law and maintenance solicitors
Cheshire and Manchester based Evolve Family Law solicitors are here to answer all your family law questions whether it is a coronavirus related family law question, child contact, help with leaving an abusive relationship or financial issues arising from coronavirus. If you legal help call us or complete our online enquiry form to set up a video conference or telephone appointment.