What should you do if COVID-19 affects Your Child Maintenance Agreement

09/10/2020

With the COVID-19 pandemic still having a lasting impact on both our personal and work lives the stresses of financial insecurity is affecting many individuals and families alike.

Many companies are trying to cope with a downturn in business and as a consequence, many employees are facing the possibility of unemployment, especially once the furlough scheme ends at the end of October, even with the updated job support scheme which will be in place by the government from November 2020 for 6 months.

These stresses can be particularly worrying for divorced and separated families. Due to the economic and employment upset the coronavirus crisis has caused, child maintenance payments have been affected by payers of child maintenance seeking to reduce payments, or even stop them completely and not perform their legal obligations to their children.

What is Child Maintenance?

Child maintenance is the regular financial contribution made towards a child’s everyday living costs.

Both parents have a legal obligation to financially support their children while they are growing up and payments are usually made to the parent a child spends most of their time with, by the parent a child spends less of their time with.

There are different ways for parents to arrange a child maintenance plan including:

  • Family-based arrangement – agreed between the parents, however, family-based arrangements are not usually legally binding. This means that if the payments you receive are reduced or stopped without your agreement, you cannot use the legal system to reinstate the payments.
  • The Child Maintenance Service (a government scheme) – a Child Maintenance Service agreement is enforceable and ensures that the parent who should be making child maintenance payments can be forced to pay them at a calculated rate. This is calculated by the Child Maintenance Service on a fixed formula.
  • Court order - The court can deal with applications for child maintenance in some, limited situations:
    • if the paying parent lives outside the UK
    • if there are additional expenses which are not taken into account by the Child Maintenance Service calculation (arising from, for example, a child’s disability), or
    • if the paying parent has a very high income and exceeds the maximum amount that would be awarded by the Child Maintenance Service (i.e. if the paying parent’s gross income exceeds £3,000 per week).

How could the COVID-19 pandemic affect child maintenance and what can I do?

Whilst there may be genuine circumstances in which a parent’s ability to pay child maintenance could be significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, due to employment change, redundancy or if an ex-partner’s business is affected, it should not be used as an excuse to stop any obligated financial commitment, so if you or your ex-partner is still receiving fully pay, then those payments must continue.

If payments have stopped and these were a family-based arrangement it will be harder to enforce, if this is the case and you are unable to come to an amicable arrangement regarding child payments you could consider making an application to the Child Maintenance Service for assistance.

If the CMS is already involved, you could contact them to resolve the matter, a partner’s liability can be reassessed if an employment situation has changed for example, and any necessary CMS calculation can be modified accordantly.

If payments have been arranged via a court order and payments are reduced or stopped (unless agreed between you) then the paying parent will be in breach of the court order. If you believe they are still able to make those payments, the court order can be enforced.

Family Dispute Resolution

Open communication may prevent matters from worsening, however, this is a complex and sensitive area of law and seeking the advice from a family law expert would be sensible so that all the options can be explained to you depending on your circumstances.

All Russell & Russell’s family solicitors are specialists in their field and adhere to the Resolution code of conduct. They can guide you through the complexities of family law, helping you make the right decisions to ensure you and your family’s well-being.

These are troubling times for all of us and we understand how stressful finding yourself in a dispute over child maintenance payments can be. If you need legal advice, our specialist family law solicitors will be happy to help.

You can speak to our family law experts, to discuss the most appropriate solution for you and your circumstances. Please Call 0800 103 2600 or make an online enquiry.

Our offices are open as usual, and we are happy to provide an initial consultation in the method you are most comfortable with, including phone and video calls. For in-person consultations, we will ensure they will be in-keeping with social distancing rules.

How can we help?