As a result of the Covid-19 lockdown, many individuals are concerned about the disruption to their jobs and income and whether this will affect their ability to meet their maintenance commitments.
Therefore, both child and spousal maintenance (maintenance payments to an ex-wife or ex-husband) might need to be reconsidered in view of recent changes to income.
How is child maintenance agreed and calculated?
Child maintenance is usually made by one parent to the other parent who is the main carer of the child or children. Unlike spousal maintenance, the court does not have jurisdiction for child maintenance except in a few limited cases. In the majority of cases, the Child Maintenance Services (CMS) are responsible for making awards and the Child Support Agency (CSA) is responsible for enforcing child maintenance awards.
The CMS does not always have to be involved or make an award. Parents can reach an agreement between themselves based on their own circumstances. They can use the child maintenance calculator to help them make these arrangements with a view to voluntarily agreeing the relevant payments.
The calculator is based on a number of factors including the number of children, the non-resident parent’s income, the number of nights a week that the child(ren) stays with that parent, and whether the non-resident parent is living in a household with another child or children.
What happens to child maintenance if your pay is reduced or you are made redundant?
If the paying parent’s income reduces as a result of either a redundancy, a pay reduction or being furloughed, it might be necessary to look again at the appropriate level of child maintenance. If the arrangements were made voluntarily then we would always suggest that you try to discuss any changes with the other parent and perhaps try to reach an agreement between yourselves. If you are not able to agree to a reduction, then it might be sensible to make an application to the CMS but, if child maintenance is set out in a Court Order, an application to the CMS might not be appropriate and it would be sensible to discuss this with a solicitor before approaching the CMS.
However, one of the things that you should be aware of is that the CMS will not review an award unless there has been a change in your income of 25% or more. This poses a problem for furloughed parents who might have only had a reduction of 20% in their income.
If child maintenance is set out in a court order then it will be valid for 12 months and at that point either party might be able to make an application to the CMS to have it varied. A court order cannot simply be disregarded after 12 months and an application to the CMS is necessary to avoid falling into arrears.
If the CMS does not have jurisdiction for other reasons, for example, the non-resident parent’s income is over £156,000, then an application to the court to vary the child maintenance would be necessary.
Spousal maintenance is usually set out in a financial order that was either agreed by consent between the individuals concerned (and approved by the court) or made by the court, following financial proceedings. Once again, if it is decided that the maintenance set out in the order is not applicable, it is sensible to discuss this with the other person in the first instance.
Spousal Maintenance cannot be unilaterally stopped without breaching an order. You should not stop making maintenance payments without the other’s agreement or a further Order from the court.
If you do stop maintenance payments without an agreement, then it is possible for your ex-spouse to go back to the court to enforce the order for maintenance. At this point, both of you will need to provide updated information in relation to your income and finances, so that the court can consider whether it is reasonable to vary the maintenance and/or whether the order needs to be enforced.
How Blaser Mills Law can help
Blaser Mills Law has a team of lawyers who can advise you in relation to reducing, stopping or enforcing maintenance and can assist in making an application to the court to vary the maintenance or enforce non-payment if necessary.
Head of Family & Divorce, Lucinda Holliday is an experienced mediator who is able to work with both parties immediately in order to help you reach an agreement, without enduring the time or costs of court proceedings.
If you would like further information on maintenance payments, please contact Lucinda Holliday at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01494 478603.