Family Law solicitor, Carol Toulson, discusses Spousal Maintenance payments at a time when many are experiencing reduced earnings.
If you are paying maintenance to your ex-spouse pursuant to a Court Order, remember that this is a Court Order. You cannot stop paying unless the Order is varied by agreement between you and the receiving party, or the Court varies the Order.
We must, however, be practical. If your income has reduced, you may quite simply not be able to afford to continue paying the Spousal Maintenance. If this is the case, contact the receiving party immediately. Explain how your income has reduced and be ready to provide proof such as a letter from your employer or your latest payslip. Remember that the receiving party may also be struggling with a reduction in income.
It may be that you and your ex-spouse can agree to a reduction in payments for a period of time? Perhaps the reduction could be deferred and paid when you are earning more again, if you are reasonably confident when that might be. Look at both your financial position and your ex-spouse’s financial position. Can you reduce payments for a period of time, such as three months, or perhaps even a shorter period of time? Explore the options with your ex-spouse and see what you both might be able to agree.
The situation surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic is changing constantly, as is the Government’s guidance. Employment situations and earnings may change equally as quickly. When agreeing a reduced payment, be sure to agree when you will both review the situation and the level of Spousal Maintenance payments again, to reflect any further changes in your or the receiving party’s circumstances.
If you cannot make even a reduced payment, there is the option to agree nominal maintenance or no maintenance for a set period of time.
If direct discussions with your ex-spouse are difficult, solicitors can help you negotiate and/or mediation can be a positive way to negotiate a compromise. If you cannot reach any agreement, then either party can apply to the Court. The paying party can apply to vary the Spousal Maintenance Order and the receiving party can apply to enforce an Order. Both applications take time and can be expensive.
The Court can vary spousal maintenance (decrease but also increase), order nominal maintenance or even provide for a full dismissal of the claim. The Court also has the power to capitalise spousal maintenance, so order a lump sum payment instead of spousal maintenance. Like paying up-front.
The Court will firstly consider the welfare of any child under the age of eighteen that is financially supported by the parties. It will consider both parties’ financial resources and needs, the current standard of living and how long Spousal Maintenance has been paid for.
If a party can demonstrate a change in their circumstances which impacts on their ability to pay the Spousal Maintenance, their application to vary the payment is likely to be successful.
If you feel that a Court application is appropriate in your circumstances, take legal advice. Court applications can be expensive and there risk involved. You need to weigh up the benefit you are hoping to achieve against the likely costs and potential risks. A solicitor will be able to advise you about the Court process, complete the application on your behalf and advise you on likely costs and chances of success.
If you would like advice on your circumstances and the options that might be open to you from a specialist in Family Law, contact Holmes & Hills Solicitors on 01376 320456 (Essex) or 01787 275275 (Suffolk).