Are you struggling to make child or spousal maintenance payments in the current COVID19 crisis? Perhaps you can’t work at present or you’ve lost your job and you just can’t afford the payments right now. Or maybe you receive maintenance and need an increase because you’ve lost work and income.
So, what should you do? Here’s our advice:
Paying Maintenance on a Reduced Income
We live in uncertain times, and there is no clear understanding of how long restrictions of some degree will remain in place. Many people’s income is currently affected by reason of inability to work or losing their job. This reduction in income may mean that you can no longer afford to pay the same level of maintenance. This can be maintenance for your spouse and/or for your children(ren).
The essential thing to do is to keep communication open. Let your ex-partner or spouse know as soon as you can, that your income has been changed. In the current climate, they should understand that this is something which is outside of your control. If required, show them proof of what has changed, by means of a letter from your employer, or recent payslip. Early notice of any unavoidable reduction in maintenance, will help the other person to adjust their budget and plan accordingly.
Discuss what level of maintenance you can afford to pay and try to reach an agreement for a reduced amount. Your solicitor can guide you towards an appropriate amount reflecting the change in your income, if you require assistance. This can be readjusted when the crisis is over and you have returned to work. Try to ensure that any revised agreement is acknowledged by email or text message. This will give you both security.
If you cannot agree the revised figure, then it is essential that you contact your solicitor. He or she should write immediately to notify your ex-spouse or partner of the need to vary the maintenance.
Court Orders and Agreements
Some maintenance arrangements are voluntary and any change to these arrangements should simply be documented, as outlined above.
It’s different if your maintenance is Court Ordered. Even if your income has been reduced, the court order remains in place and must be followed. Any period of reduced payments will see arrears building up. For this reason, the written acknowledgement of the agreement to reduce maintenance is essential.
If the change cannot be agreed, then your solicitor should file an application to Court to vary the Maintenance Order.
Receiving Maintenance While On Reduced Income
This situation can also work in reverse. If you are in receipt of maintenance, you may lose your income, or have it reduced in the current situation. So, for a temporary period only, your maintenance may need to be reviewed and increased.
It’s essential that children are provided for properly at this time, and that their welfare and interests are placed first. Again, you should follow the steps outlined above regarding communication and negotiation.
Seek a voluntary agreement in the first place to secure the increase you need. It may well be that your ex-partner’s income has not been affected by the COVID19 crisis, and you feel they can afford increased payments. So perhaps you can come to agreement on this.
If a voluntary agreement is not possible, contact your solicitor. He or she should write immediately to notify your ex-spouse or partner of the need to vary the maintenance.
PLEASE NOTE THE FOLLOWING UPDATE FOR THOSE IN RECEIPT OF ONE PARENT FAMILY PAYMENT WHOSE MAINTENANCE PAYMENTS HAVE BEEN STOPPED BECAUSE THEIR EX-PARTNER’S LOST THEIR INCOME:
When Both Exes are On Reduced Incomes
The situation becomes more difficult if both those paying and those receiving maintenance are on reduced incomes. This can require a different approach.
Both parties should review their budgets, preferably together. Then you can contact lenders, mortgage companies or utility providers, to seek whatever assistance can be provided.
We are in uncharted waters at the moment, and this requires a greater level of co-operation between separated couples than ever before. This is not always easy, However, by placing the interest of children and dependent persons firmly in sight, it is possible to secure agreements which will see your family through this difficult period.