April 22, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically affected our work, home, social, and personal lives more than ever before in human history. Aside from the virus itself, this pandemic is stoking fear of financial insecurity and uncertainty to millions of individuals and families around the globe.
Divorced and separated families are no exception from the wake of these turbulent financial times. Child maintenance payments have been negatively affected by ex-partners who have reduced support or who have unfortunately used this an opportunity to cease payments and their legal obligations to their children. Undoubtedly, this emerging issue now brings with it serious concerns to separated parents who are reliant on the continuation of such payments.
Child Maintenance Defined
Child maintenance is the regular and reliable financial support paid towards a child’s everyday living expenses. There are different ways for parents to arrange a child maintenance plan, it can either be through a family-based arrangement, the Child Maintenance Service (a government scheme), or a court order.
This procedure provides financial assistance to single parents and at the same time orders both parents to be responsible for childcare. The government has set out a formula to help parents work out how child maintenance should be paid. It is usually calculated according to the CMS formula which calculates maintenance based upon a set percentage of the paying parent’s gross income. In households where care of the children is divided, the formula will also take into consideration the number of nights a child spends with that parent, reducing the overall maintenance payable.
How to Enforce or Modify Child Maintenance Payment during the COVID-19
While it is understandable that some people’s ability to pay child maintenance will be reduced as jobs and businesses are severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, one should not use the current situation as an excuse to stop their financial commitment. Thus, if your ex-partner is still receiving full pay, they must continue to make payments.
If the CMS is involved, and you decide to bring up the matter to them, they may reassess your ex-partner’s liability. Presently, if a paying parent reports that their income has been reduced by 25% because of COVID-19, the CMS will modify any CMS calculation accordingly. Therefore, if you are continuing to pay child maintenance and have a reduced income of 25% it would be prudent to call CMS on 0800 171 2345. But if the paying parent receives an 80% furlough payment, they will have an obligation to pay maintenance in full.
The CMS can take legal actions against ex-partners who are still capable of paying but are just reluctant. However, if child maintenance arrears accumulate due to valid financial adversity, the court may dismiss these arrears altogether. Your ex-partner can also apply to the court for a downward adjustment of the payments.
On the other hand, if you are the one providing financial support to your ex-partner and child(ren), and you are caught in a situation beyond your control like losing your job, having your business sternly affected or becoming infected by the virus, it is essential that you also communicate to those who will be affected by your situation.
Open communication may prevent matters from worsening. Speak to your former partner to notify them of the change in your circumstances. Strive to maintain an open line of communication and try to agree on a compromise. You may both settle on lesser maintenance payments temporarily and return to standard payments when business is back to normal and your income resumes.
Either way, given that we are all in unprecedented circumstances it would be sensible to take legal advice before making any application. If you find yourself in any of the above situations, and you need expert legal advice, our family lawyers at Tayntons Solicitors are happy to help. Please call 0800 158 4147 or email us at email@example.com to schedule an appointment.