The widespread impact of Covid-19 is affecting almost all parts of our lives. Businesses are closing their doors, employee’s hours and salaries have been reduced and redundancies are being made. Many people are now understandably concerned about their income position. With economic uncertainty looming over everyone, this is creating a further worry for those who are paying or receiving spousal maintenance.
Spousal maintenance orders require one party of the former marriage to pay regular amounts to their ex-spouse; usually for a set number of years.
The payments are made to the ex-spouse who does not have enough available funds to meet their needs and the paying party has sufficient additional income in order to make this affordable for them.
Can a Spousal Maintenance Order be Changed?
Fortunately, spousal maintenance orders can be varied in order to facilitate changes in our lives; the term can be increased or reduced along with the amount payable and, if required, the order can be terminated.
For an order to be varied, the courts will consider a number of circumstances specific to the case. Namely, their first consideration will be the ability of the paying ex-spouse to continue to make payments, i.e. if they have lost their job, their ability to pay will be reduced.
What if I am Receiving Maintenance?
If you are receiving maintenance and have become aware that your ex-spouse has lost their job, your priority will be to maintain your financial position as best as possible whilst also being sympathetic to the fact that your ex-spouse has lost either part or all of their income.
You may wish to agree a temporary payment schedule which takes any reduced earning capacity into consideration, on the understanding that the original court-ordered payments will resume once either full time hours re-commence or a new job is found.
It is recommended that you contact your solicitor before agreeing to any temporary reduction or change, especially if the paying party is expressing the change to be permanent
What if I am Paying Maintenance?
If you are paying maintenance and have lost your job, you should communicate this to your ex-spouse and make them aware of the steps that you are taking to mitigate this loss.
If you are able to agree to a temporary payment schedule, arrears of maintenance can accrue during this time. You should contact your solicitor to ensure that you are protected from a future claim to recover the arrears.
You should also ensure that any conversations regarding temporary payments, especially an acknowledgement of, are recorded i.e. a text message, email or even WhatsApp.
A further option could be to make a lump-sum payment to your ex-spouse, from either savings or investments, and seek to ‘capitalise the order’. This means that rather than paying monthly, you would make a one-off payment and you can obtain a clean break order. If you are intending to make a lump-sum payment, you must ensure that you speak with your solicitor prior to agreeing any figures as the lump-sum payment will need to be correctly calculated.
Applying to Court as a Last Resort
Given the current situation, an application to court should be seen as the absolute last resort.
If possible, you should speak with your ex-spouse to try to come to a suitable arrangement between yourselves. Honesty and transparency will ensure that each party knows where they stand during this stressful time.
If communication with your ex-spouse is not proving to be beneficial, you may wish to consider mediation, or speak to your solicitor who will be able to provide further advice to ensure that your financial position is protected as best as possible. However, if you are unable to reach an agreement, an application to court to vary the order may be your only available option.