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Payment of child maintenance and the Coronavirus

The impact of the Coronavirus is touching most areas of our everyday life. In Jersey, many businesses have already closed their doors and for many, their income just doesn’t seem as secure as it was. In turn, this is making anyone in receipt of paying child or spousal maintenance very worried.

Below are the answers to some questions to explain the current position which will hopefully be helpful whether you receive or pay child maintenance.

What happens if your income is reduced or even dries up?

In the event that your income is reduced, or you are no longer receiving an income, payments of maintenance (both child and spousal) are always variable. This means payment levels can be reduced, increased or in the case of spousal maintenance, terminated completely. However, this can only be done in agreement with your ex or by receiving an order of the court.

If payments are not made or reduced, will the arrears build up still?

Yes, they will, and you will be at risk that your ex will take you to the Petty Debts Court for the arrears. You will then be ordered to pay the arrears. If an application has been made to the Family Court for a variation then the question of the arrears will be dealt with by that court.

What about payments for school fees/activities/school trips and other extras?

Often in Jersey these are expressed to be in addition to the actual maintenance. Unless, private schools and colleges agree to reduce school fees these will still be payable. The situation with other extras is more complicated and if the charge is waived by the supplier or these cannot take place then there is an argument for not continuing to pay for these.

If you do miss any payments for these extras make sure you make a clear note of which activities did not take place during this period and ensure that you have clearly explained to your ex why you have made these deductions.

Will the court hear my application at the moment?

The Family court is still open, but hearings are taking place remotely. They are prioritising urgent applications. Most variation applications will not fall into this category and therefore there may well be delays in hearings over the coming months.

What is the best way to proceed then if maintenance is unaffordable?

The first port of call should be a discussion with your ex. Hopefully, he or she will agree a way forward with you. You might want to consider a reduced monthly sum for the period of the crisis or even a lump sum payment that covers a few months (out of any redundancy payment, for example). If agreement cannot be reached, then speak to Viberts as we may be able to broker an agreement either through correspondence or a virtual mediation.

There are so many challenges at the moment that are new to all of us and the Family court, therefore it is really important that you take legal advice where necessary and do not do anything that could lead to problems later in the year.

Finally, if you do reach an agreement that varies a court order, make sure that you get the agreement in writing. It is then very easy and cost effective to get the court to vary the original order.

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