Missed Maintenance Payments During Covid19 Crisis

ASK THE EXPERTS

Maintenance payments during COVID-19 crisis

In a series of blogs, we are putting questions to our expert lawyers here at Price Slater Gawne to provide information during these unusual times. Today, we are asking questions of our Family Law Consultant, Carole Nettleton about relationships and maintenance payments during the COVID-19 crisis.

 

1. I have been furloughed by my employer and I am only receiving 80% of my salary. There is a child maintenance assessment in place from the Child Maintenance Services – can I reduce this given my decrease in income?

The short answer is yes – but only after discussions with your former partner and the Child Maintenance Service.

If you have been furloughed and your income has reduced, then the first step would be to contact your former partner and explain the situation to see if any temporary agreement to a reduction can be reached.

If that is not possible, then you should contact the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to explain the situation.

Technically, the CMS only have to reassess when the paying parent’s income has reduced by 25% but in these unprecedented times, the CMS has advised anyone whose income has been reduced due to COVID-19 to contact them and your payments may be reduced.

The advice from the CMS is not to cease paying completely without discussing matters with them, otherwise, arrears will accrue for which the paying parent will be liable.

 

2. My former partner and I had an agreement about child maintenance but since COVID-19, I have not received any payments from them. What can I do?

If possible, the first step would be to contact your former partner to discuss why child maintenance has stopped; and whether an agreement can be reached to recommence payments – even if it is at a reduced rate that will increase again after lockdown.

If that discussion or agreement is not possible then you can contact the Child Maintenance Service to request an assessment. The CMS has advised that one of the impacts of COVID-19 is an increase in workload and it is taking longer than the usual 1 month to set up an assessment. In usual times, the CMS generally claim that payment is received within 6 weeks of the paying parent making payment arrangements with them, but again, this may take longer at the moment.

The timescales are vague – just that it will take longer than usual and that payments may be estimated until the CMS can fully deal with an assessment. The best advice we can give is to contact them and to keep contacting! – don’t assume that things are being dealt with as they are experiencing COVID-19 turmoil at the moment.

 

3. My former partner was paying child maintenance but says he has no income due to COVID-19, so maintenance payments have stopped. What can I do?

Again, if you can have an amicable discussion with your former partner to see if any agreement can be reached, this would be the ideal solution. You might discuss to either change payments or establish whether your former partner has another source of funds – i.e. savings or similar – that can be accessed for you both and in particular the children during these uncertain times.

If the maintenance is child maintenance that has stopped under a Child Maintenance Services Assessment then you should contact the CMS to seek enforcement proceedings (e.g. payments direct from earnings) as the CMS advise that they will take action if child maintenance is not paid.

However, due to coronavirus (COVID-19), the CMS is not currently contacting paying parents about missing payments and advise that you may have to wait longer to get the money that is owed to you.

This has caused concern amongst groups that support single parents such as Gingerbread.

Joe Richardson, of Gingerbread, said that many of the children of single parents are facing an “indefinite suspension or reduction in maintenance payments”, which they depend upon. And “Gingerbread is calling on the Government to step-in during this period, to immediately fill the shortfall for parents not receiving maintenance payments to ensure this doesn’t happen and children don’t suffer.”

It is hoped that the Government will take steps to fill the shortfall but to date, there has not been any announcement. Ultimately your former partner will have to pay but it might not be immediately.

 

4. I have a court order for monthly spousal maintenance following our divorce. My former husband has said that due to a change in his income due to COVID-19, he cannot afford to pay it. What can I do?

Again, if you can discuss matters amicably with your former husband then it is advisable to do so, to see if any agreement can be reached. This might be to discuss changing payments or to establish whether your former husband might have another source of funds – savings or similar – that can be accessed for you both during these uncertain times.

Court orders cannot be ignored and stand until varied. So it is unwise for the paying party to simply cease payments without evidence and without attempts to negotiate a temporary change.

The family court will not look favourably on a husband who has unilaterally ceased paying. They often take the view that spousal maintenance is a priority, often because it is the only source of income.

There are other options that a paying party can look at such as mortgage holidays, loan holidays and use of other monies to ensure that funds are available to pay the maintenance as ordered.

Please don’t forget that arrears accrue on missed payments and those will also need to be settled.

There are enforcement proceedings that we can advise you of e.g. attachment of earnings (where payment is made directly from an employer) a third party debt (where we ask the bank to make payment directly from a bank account) a charging order on the paying parties property (where we can ultimately seek a sale to pay arrears) or a judgment summons (where a non-paying party is sent to prison for contempt of court.)

Please contact us if you need to discuss any of those options.

 

5. I have to pay my ex-wife monthly maintenance, but I cannot afford to do so any longer as my income has decreased due to COVID-19. What can I do?

Firstly, try to discuss matters directly with your former wife. Most people understand that financial circumstances can become strained and difficult due to COVID-19 and will be understanding about the present economic situation.

A better option would be to obtain an agreement for a temporary reduction and for any arrears not to be pursued or for arrears to be paid over a period of time.

If this cannot be agreed then you will need to make an application to the court to vary the existing spousal maintenance order. You will need to have supporting evidence of a long term change – the court understands that all of us may experience a temporary change. The family court will be unhappy if you exploit lockdown as an excuse not to pay, so it is important that you take legal advice before applying to the court to vary an existing order.

 


 

At Price Slater Gawne, we can discuss issues concerning child maintenance or spousal maintenance with you, so please contact us if you are experiencing any of these problems.

Our expert solicitors with over 50 years of combined experience will ensure that your case is dealt with in a prompt, efficient and cost-effective manner.

If you wish to discuss your own particular circumstances regarding payment of maintenance during COVID-19 lockdown or find that the lockdown has made your situation worse, please contact one of our family law experts for a free, no-obligation discussion. During the lockdown period, we can correspond with you and arrange interviews via phone, Skype, Facetime or Zoom to suit your own personal circumstances.

⋅ Carole Nettleton
Tel: 07958 028069
Email: carole.nettleton@psg-law.co.uk

⋅ Nicholas Clough
Tel: 07538 385956
Email: nicholas.clough@psg-law.co.uk