News | September 29, 2020

SECOND WAVE COVID 19- I can’t afford to pay maintenance

While the Government considers options for a wider support package as the Furlough scheme comes to an end in October, many employees fear redundancy is around the corner. Whether you are a Footballer, Senior Executive or support staff, many people in the UK have been asked by their employers to accept a pay cut in the current climate. What is more worrying is the open-ended nature of the proposal. No one is immune.

During these times of uncertainty and hardship, spousal maintenance and financial support for children are an emotive topic.

Are you worrying about how you will be able to afford to pay child or spousal maintenance?

Are you, as the recipient of maintenance, understandably worried about how COVID-19 may impact these payments?

We have set out practical advice below.

Child Maintenance

Research, by the charity, Gingerbread and the online site Mumsnet found that three quarters of single parents had to cut back on food spending during the pandemic because their payments had been reduced. It is estimated that a third of parents received no child maintenance payments at all from their ex-partners/spouses during the coronavirus lockdown.

Voluntary payments of child maintenance

If you are unable to pay child maintenance at your usual level, we advise the following:

  • Speak to your former partner or spouse at the earliest opportunity to see if you can reach a compromise agreement in the short term while your income is lower than normal.
  • Give the other parent a chance to digest and consider their position.
  • Be transparent about your financial situation and provide documentation in support.

Child Maintenance Service (“CMS”)

If your payments are made via the CMS, then you must contact them to see if they will carry out a reassessment. 

If your circumstances have changed for one of the following reasons, call the CMS straightaway:

  • if you have lost your job;
  • if you are temporarily receiving no income;
  • if you are temporarily receiving statutory sick pay;
  • if child maintenance should no longer be paid because of a change in circumstances;
  • if you are reporting a bereavement.

For any other changes, parents are encouraged to report these changes online by registering or logging into here

In the short-term, the CMS will accept verbal evidence of a reduction in income and will prioritise loss of job changes over other changes in income. In addition, the CMS will also revise calculations, and pursue arrears and/or enforcement action against anyone who has abused this short-term measure once the COVID-19 crisis has stabilised.

Over time, the CMS will ensure all customers pay or receive the right amount of child maintenance and that calculations are backdated where needed and unpaid amounts pursued.

Varying a Court Order

If child maintenance is paid further to a court order, we advise the following:

  • Try and agree a new payment with your former spouse or partner.
  • Consider making a formal court application to vary the existing court order. 
  • Be aware that there may be an opportunity to involve the CMS– the CMS order will trump the court order (save if the payer’s income exceeds £156,000 before tax) and usually terminate it for all purposes.
  • Taking in to consideration that like all litigation, the cost to fight these types of applications at court can be costly and time-consuming, so consider mediation and legal support.

We can advise you if it is advisable to issue a court application in your circumstances and represent your interests at court. 

Spousal Maintenance

Voluntary arrangements

If you are unable to pay spousal maintenance at your usual level, we advise the following:

  • Talk to your former spouse at an early stage about your concerns in order that they can manage their own finances. 
  • Do not wait until they notice the payment into their bank has stopped or reduced. This may lead to distrust.
  • Be upfront about your own outgoings and reduced income, and also be mindful that your former spouse may be relying on your maintenance payments to cover their financial commitments.
  • If you are in receipt of a Furlough payment you may still be able to pay something to your former spouse. 

If you are the one who receives payments then we advise the following:

  • See if an agreement can be reached in order that you are still able to maintain your regular outgoings.
  • Consider that these are uncertain economic times for many, but hopefully any variation will be short-lived while your former spouse is getting back to a normal work routine. 
  • If your former spouse simply stops paying and you are relying on that income, consider making an emergency application to the court for interim spousal maintenance.  This application can only be made if a divorce is underway so you may require urgent legal advice and we can advise you on this.

Varying a court order

If your spousal maintenance is paid further to a court order, we advise the following:

  • Ensure you have the agreement of the receiving spouse or the court to vary payments.
  • Any agreement reached with your former spouse should be recorded in writing and then converted into a consent order to vary the terms of the original order. This puts the court in a position to endorse the agreement and make it legally binding.  We can assist with the negotiation and drafting of such an agreement.
  • If no agreement can be reached with your former spouse, consider making an application to court for a downward variation of the maintenance order.
  • Be mindful of whether your change in circumstances is only temporary or if it may be more medium to long term, and consider the costs and benefits before issuing court proceedings.
  • Seek legal advice. A family lawyer can help at an early stage to guide you through the process, and can negotiate directly with the your former spouse or their lawyers and/or assist in the background if you opt for mediation.

If you are the receiving party of spousal maintenance, we advise the following:

  • Consider applying to the court to enforce the maintenance order, if no agreement can be reached. We can draft the application and represent your interests at court. 
  • If payments simply stop or reduce,  deal with this issue without delay in order to avoid accumulating arrears.
  • Be aware that we can also assist you in tandem with other professionals such as forensic accountants, if you believe the other side is not being clear and transparent with respect to their finances.

How we can help

Our team of family law specialists can help you navigate the best way forward, to ensure you are still complying with your legal requirements for payment of maintenance.

For further information, please contact Trisha Siddique of Wedlake Bell LLP on 020 73953036 or email