Millions of people have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Even if your health has not suffered, you may have been furloughed or your business may have ceased trading temporarily. If you’re self-employed, your orders and contracts may have completely dried up. In any of these circumstances, your income may have reduced and you might be finding it hard to keep up with your monthly commitments. While it’s possible to take payment holidays for your mortgage, credit cards or loans, how is your child maintenance affected by coronavirus?
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What happens if you can’t afford maintenance payments?
If your income has reduced or stopped entirely, or the value of your assets has fallen sharply due to volatile stock markets, you may feel that you are no longer in a position to continue any maintenance payments you were making.
You should try and come to an agreement with your ex-partner to temporarily amend your agreement, fully using any of the support measures currently in place. For example, if you pay your ex-spouse’s mortgage, you could take advantage of the three-month mortgage payment holiday available to borrowers.
If there is a court order in place then you are obliged to adhere to it. So your first course of action should be to write to your ex-spouse and to explain the situation you are in, and the consequent or anticipated drop in income.
It will help if you are able to provide evidence of the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on your income. You should also suggest a temporary reduction in the maintenance that you pay and, if relevant, a suspension or reduction in the amount you pay as part of the court order or assessment.
If your attempts at reaching a compromise are unsuccessful, you may need to make an application to the court to reduce or stop the maintenance payments you are making. Your ex-spouse may also decide to enforce the court order that is in place.
Note that, in the current circumstances, it is likely that courts will be lenient on people who have had to reduce the amount of maintenance being paid while the pandemic continues to have such an impact.
What if I use the Child Maintenance Service (CMS)?
If you use the Child Maintenance Service (formerly the Child Support Agency), the service can recalculate the amount of maintenance that you should pay when your income has changed by 25% or more.
So, if your income has reduced significantly and you use the CMS, you should contact them with regard to undertaking a reassessment.
In addition, the CMS is naturally experiencing a high volume of enquiries during the pandemic as millions of people see a fall in their earnings. There may therefore be delays in processing your request.
If you want to make claim for child maintenance through the CMS at the present time, you may also experience delays as a result of changed working practices during the coronavirus outbreak.
What should I do if my maintenance payments have reduced?
If your maintenance payments have fallen due to the circumstances outlined above, you may need to seek additional financial support in the form of benefits.
The government have announced changes to Universal Credit and so you may be eligible for one or more benefits, depending on your personal circumstances.
Other support currently available includes:
- A Job Retention scheme for workers which sees ‘furloughed’ workers paid 80% of their earnings, up to £2,500 per month
- If you’re self-employed, the government have announced an income support scheme that will pay you 80% of your average earnings over the last 36 months, to a maximum of £2,500 per month. This assistance is expected to arrive in June 2020
- A three-month mortgage payment holiday for borrowers struggling to maintain their mortgage repayments due to the coronavirus
- Deferrals to VAT and self-employed tax payments due in July 2020
- Business rates relief for hospitality, retail, leisure and nursery businesses
Lenders such as banks and building societies may also be able to arrange payment holidays for loans and credit cards until the pandemic comes to an end and your income returns to a more comfortable level.
Can I still see my children during the coronavirus pandemic?
It’s important to remember that the guidelines regarding lockdown do allow for parents to see their non-resident children.
While the original published guidance did not take this situation into account, the government made a specific clarification to confirm that ‘where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes’.
The exception would be in a situation where someone in one of those houses has symptoms of the coronavirus. Here, the child should remain in the other home.
Parents are urged to act sensibly and safely when making decisions about where their children should spend time during the pandemic.
While parents can consider changing the ‘letter’ of the law regarding custody arrangements, they should not ignore the ‘spirit’ of any order that is in place.
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