As more and more jobs and businesses are being impacted as a result of coronavirus, both payers and receivers of child maintenance will no doubt be equally worried about their financial commitments. Understanding, communication and transparency will be essential in trying to work together for the benefit of your children.
You may find that your former partner stops paying child maintenance to you, or tells you that they have to reduce the payment. Your income may have decreased significantly meaning you are no longer able to afford to pay the child maintenance you are required to.
If you continue to receive your full income, you should continue to make child maintenance payments in full. If you are unable to make your payments, the steps you should take depend on your circumstances.
If you and the other parent have been dealing with child maintenance on the basis of an agreement reached between you, the first step should be to try and reach a compromise. Sharing information about your income and how this has been impacted is likely to be helpful. If you are able to agree a temporary change to the payments, then you should ensure you have a clear record of the changes in writing.
If you and the other parent cannot agree changes to your agreement on child maintenance, either of you can make an application to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) for an assessment. They will make their assessment on the basis of the paying parent’s gross annual income. You can carry out a calculation online at: https://www.gov.uk/calculate-child-maintenance.
If you already pay child maintenance following an assessment by the CMS, then you should contact the CMS as soon as possible if your income changes. The CMS usually only make a change to your child maintenance payments outside their annual review, if your income changes by 25% or more. However, you should still contact them to make them aware of any change in your circumstances and to find out whether they have put in place any additional support as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The CMS will tell you whether they able to reassess your liability for child maintenance as a result of the change in your income. You will need to be able to produce evidence of your current income and ask that CMS carries out their assessment on this basis, as opposed to your previous earnings.
If you are paying child maintenance in accordance with a court order that is less than 12 months old, you will be in breach of the order if you stop paying. You should ideally apply to the court for a downwards variation of the maintenance due to your change in circumstances. If you stop paying without the agreement of your former partner and do not apply for a variation, it is possible that enforcement proceedings will be started. If arrears accrue in circumstances which are entirely genuine and unavoidable, the court can write off some or all of any arrears, but this will depend on the circumstances of the case.
Some tips to consider when dealing with child maintenance issues are:
- Be transparent and share information which is likely to help understanding.
- Keep communicating with one another.
- Understand that these are difficult and uncertain times, and that you are both worried about the evolving situation.
- Act and react quickly where you need to.
- Pay what you can if your income has reduced but you can still afford something.
- If you cannot reach an agreement, consider finding a mediator who can conduct remote mediations to help try to resolve the issue.
- Take legal advice as to how you might be able to resolve matters, with or without need for a court application.
- Be aware that if you make an application to the court to enforce maintenance payments and it is clear that maintenance is not affordable, there is a risk of a costs order being made against you.
If you do find yourself in the situation of needing to apply to the CMS in respect of child maintenance or needing to apply to the court for the variation or enforcement of an existing order, it will be important that you take legal advice as soon as possible. The courts are doing what they can to issue new applications and conduct hearings via telephone or video, but their resources are understandably limited.
If you need any assistance in relation to these issues, or any other matters arising as a result of the situation with Coronavirus, please get in touch with us. We are able to offer appointments by telephone or video whilst the current government guidance is in place.