9th April 2020

Coronavirus: Paying spousal maintenance but facing redundancy or reduced pay

The coronavirus outbreak has had sudden and widespread implications for a whole host of industries and sectors, the result of which has unfortunately led to many people facing reduced hours, reduced pay or furlough and, in some cases, redundancy.

The coronavirus outbreak has had sudden and widespread implications for a whole host of industries and sectors, the result of which has unfortunately led to many people facing reduced hours, reduced pay or furlough and, in some cases, redundancy.

If spousal maintenance forms part of the financial settlement between you and your ex-spouse, whether voluntary or by way of a court order, you may be concerned about paying maintenance if your income position is now significantly different to how it was when the financial order was made or voluntary agreement was reached. Questions in relation to the variation of child maintenance will be considered in a separate article.

It is important to understand that there are actions you can take. The impact of COVID-19 could result in a substantial change to your financial circumstances; and a court could consider this to be a qualifying factor to successfully achieve an order to vary maintenance.

You do not necessarily have to apply to the court to achieve a variation of maintenance payments. Instead, consider the following options:

  1. Start a conversation as soon as possible - Contact your former spouse to explain that your income position has changed and, as a result, you are looking to voluntarily agree a reduction in the level of maintenance you pay. You should outline that you are also having to reduce your own outgoings and, if possible, you could indicate you are willing to revert to the original level of maintenance once your income position improves.
  2. Mediate - If you feel you may struggle to have a conversation with your former spouse, you may want to use a mediator to facilitate discussions between the two of you. Some mediators are able to offer videoconference facilities to host virtual mediation sessions.
  3. Court application - If you are not able to agree a reduced level of maintenance on a voluntary basis, you will need to make an application to court to vary your maintenance. The courts are operating on a remote access basis; however, there are likely to be significant delays and we would therefore advise you to take legal advice before embarking on a court-based process.

If you find yourself in a position where you are no longer able to afford maintenance payments, be assured there are options you can explore to either agree a temporary or permanent reduction to your maintenance payments. As ever with family matters, it is advisable to start a conversation early with your ex-spouse and consider what you might be able to agree between you rather than assuming there is nothing that can be done to vary spousal maintenance.

If you are able to reach a voluntary agreement, you should ensure the new agreement is recorded in writing so that you are both clear about the new obligations and what the trigger could be to revert to the previous level of spousal maintenance. This may be something you would like to take legal advice on.

Please note: Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice and we are not liable for any reliance on the information provided. This is a rapidly changing subject, and whilst correct at the time of writing, circumstances may have changed since publication. Please refer to Gov.uk for up-to-date advice on the Government’s response to this issue.

To find out more about how best to approach varying your spousal maintenance payments, or how to record a voluntary agreement to vary spousal maintenance, please contact Pascale Devlin or another member of Thrings’ Family team.


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