We are living in a worrying time as the COVID-19 virus continues to spread and affect our community and everyday lives. The true impact of the virus is not yet known in terms of our health and wellbeing and that of our loved ones. As if this wasn’t enough, coronavirus is also having a significant effect on our economy and our jobs.
Reports of businesses closing and staff being made redundant are reported every day on the news. This may well, in turn, be affecting people’s ability to pay their mortgages, utilities and other day-to-day expenses. The Government and the Banks are introducing measures to provide a degree of relief in relation to these expenses, but what happens to your child maintenance obligations?
I have a private written agreement with my ex-partner. My salary has been reduced and I can’t afford to pay child maintenance at the current rate. What can I do?
As you have entered into a written agreement directly with your ex-partner, your available options will, to some extent, depend on the terms of your agreement. However in general terms, in the first instance, if possible, you should intimate any change in your financial situation to your ex-partner and try to come to a “new” agreement. You may, for example, be able to agree that you will pay a reduced amount in accordance with the percentage reduction of your salary. Alternatively, you may agree to use the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) calculator tool, using your reduced salary, to calculate a new amount.
The benefit of reaching an agreement is that you can be creative with the solution to ensure that it meets your needs as a family. Even if you do reach an agreement with your ex-partner, it is very important that you still take legal advice so that any “new” agreement is formally recorded. This will avoid difficulties later on, for example, if your ex-partner were to claim that there was no such “new” agreement.
If you do not feel able to discuss matters directly with your ex-partner, or those discussions break down, there are other forms of dispute resolution available to you including negotiation through your respective solicitors, mediation, collaborative practice or family arbitration. All of these approaches can be exercised via telephone, email or video link depending upon which option is selected, thus ensuring parties remain compliant with the guidance on social distancing.
If you are unable to reach an agreement about reducing your child maintenance payments and either you have no written agreement stating the original amount, or where you do have such an agreement but it was entered into more than a year ago, you can apply to the CMS for an assessment of how much you require to pay for your child based on your current circumstances. (Please note that in a limited number of circumstances it will be the court as opposed to the CMS who will deal with such cases – we can advise you in this regard when you make contact based on your particular circumstances.) Once an assessment is made by the CMS, the assessed amount will replace the figure set out in the original written agreement, except in relation to any arrears that have built up prior to the start date of the CMS assessment.
If your written agreement has been in force for less than a year, again subject to the terms of your agreement, your only other course of action would be to raise a court action to ask for an order to be made that your payments be reduced. This should be a last resort given the expense and potential stress involved. Additionally, as we have discussed in our previous blog, the courts are currently restricting the number of hearings taking place due to the impact of COVID-19.
This situation is constantly evolving, however, and we will, of course, provide you with up to the minute legal advice when you make contact with us in order that you can fully consider your options.
My workplace has closed due to COVID-19 and I am not receiving my salary. I pay my child maintenance through CMS. What should I do?
If your level of income changes by at least 25%, and it is likely to remain at the revised rate for some time, then you can contact the CMS and ask that they vary the level of child maintenance you pay. This may apply to you during the period of COVID-19 if your salary is reduced or your employment is terminated.
As we have said, the impact of COVID-19, and the measures implemented to combat the effect of the virus, are constantly changing. Obtaining up to date legal advice is accordingly essential to ensure you understand all of the options available to you and how they impact on you and your family. If you require any assistance or you have any concerns in relation to the child maintenance payments you make or receive, please do not hesitate to be in touch with our specialist family law team using the contact details below: