Sou Babaei, Axiom Stone considers the financial implications for households
Life in the UK has been transformed since the Coronavirus outbreak – not least, financially. The majority of businesses have been forced to close, many employees have been furloughed or accepted reduction in salaries with waves of redundancies forecast for the coming months. As the financial consequence of the pandemic continues to grow for many households, payers of spousal maintenance may undoubtedly be concerned about meeting their financial commitments if their income has been hit by the current lockdown.
If you find yourself in this position, start, where possible, by communicating with your former partner and immediately notify them of the change in your financial circumstances. Be transparent about your financial situation. Quite often when a relationship breaks down there are ongoing issues of trust. So, be prepared to provide your ex with evidence and try to negotiate a reduced payment. It will help considerably if you can show your ex any changes that you are making to your own lifestyle in order to support yourself and those dependant on you. Take a pragmatic approach: if you have to reduce or suspend the maintenance payments temporarily can you mitigate that loss in another way and make it clear that the arrangement is only temporary, solely due to the current situation.
An alternative to direct communication between the parties, would be to reach an agreement through a solicitor or a mediator to facilitate discussions between ex-partners. Open communication could help to prevent matters from escalating between the parties while avoiding the unnecessary costs and time involved in taking the matter to Court.
Another option is to offer a capital lump sum payment and so end the maintenance payment permanently. This is a good option if you have the funds or are able to borrow through an interest-free loan. Your ex-partner will find more certainty in this approach rather than worrying about your ability to afford monthly payments in light of the pandemic.
If you find yourself in this situation and are able to come to an agreement to temporarily suspend or vary the maintenance payments it is essential that you put any agreement in writing to avoid future disputes if one party changes their mind about the arrangement. Should the matter be disputed in the courts then at least there will be a record of your intentions at the time of the agreement.
If you are unable to reach an agreement on court-ordered maintenance, you can return the matter to the court and seek to vary the payments. But, in the absence of an agreement, note that before reducing or suspending any payments, failure to comply with the terms of a maintenance Order is a breach of that Order and you could be faced with enforcement proceedings.
The jurisdiction to vary a maintenance order lies in Section 31 Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. However, as with most litigation, costs can be high and could take several months to be resolved. You are best to negotiate a practical and cost-effective solution.
When dealing with an application to vary maintenance payments, the Court’s primary concern will be the needs of both spouses and any children involved. The outcome of the proceedings will depend on the entire facts of the case, and the Court has a wide discretion to make orders.
Due to the current restrictions, Courts throughout the UK are prioritising matters in light of their urgency if you are unable to reach an agreement and to avoid being in breach of an order you should apply to the court vary your maintenance order urgently.. Thus, communication and cooperation between the parties with the support of a family lawyer is more significant than ever as they can facilitate that dialogue though many channels.
Manisha Raja – Senior Associate
“If your income has reduced due to the corona virus pandemic then communicate this to your ex-partner as early as possible, be open and honest with your former partner about your situation if you are transparent you are more likely to reach an agreement and achieve a pragmatic solution to what is hopefully a short-term financial problem which could avoid you going to court saving you costly legal fees, time and energy.”
If you are concerned about meeting the obligation of spousal maintenance, Manisha Raj, Axiom Stone’s Senior Family Law Solicitor, is happy to provide a brief initial review of the position by way of a free 30-minute telephone/video consultation during the lock down period. If you would like to book a free consultation call, please set out the position in an email to MR@axiomstone.co.uk and she will get back to you promptly.
Note: the information contained in this article is accurate at the time of publication on 18 May 2020. The remarks in this article are not a substitute for legal advice on the specific circumstances of any case