31 March 2020

Will covid-19 affect my child maintenance payments?

Many employers have asked their employees to go on leave or take holiday during the Covid-19 pandemic – if you have found yourself in this position, even if you still have some salary coming in, you may be worried about ensuring that you have enough money to support your children during this difficult period.

Whether you are a parent who is paying child maintenance, or one receiving it, you may, like some of our clients, need to know how the situation will affect those payments.

Depending on the type of arrangement you have in place, there may be options available to you and in some circumstances, your child maintenance payments may be reduced to reflect the changes to your income.

Informal agreement

Agreements that have not been documented in any written agreement.

All parents want to ensure that all their children’s essential needs are met – so they need to openly discuss and negotiate any temporary changes which are necessary. Communication is vital, and no drastic changes should be made without the prior knowledge of the other parent, as this could place them in financial difficulty. The best course of action is to try and reach an amiable agreement between yourselves.

If you cannot reach an agreement with the other parent, discuss the matter with a family lawyer who can give you advice on what your next step should be.

Child Maintenance Service

Child maintenance is calculated through the Child Maintenance Service.

If you are the paying parent, and your income has changed by 25% as a result of Covid-19, the Child Maintenance Service will adjust their calculation, but you must report the change in income to them. If your income has reduced by 25%, or any changes to your circumstances has led you to believe that child maintenance should no longer be paid, you should call the Child Maintenance Service on 0800 171 2345 and discuss these changes with them.

Court order or formal agreements

Child maintenance is documented in a written agreement or a court order.

Read through the written agreement or court order so that you can check the obligation to pay child maintenance exactly.

Communication is key with separated parents.

If the amount needs to change due to the current Covid-19 situation, work together with the other parent to reach a temporary agreement. This change should be documented and produced in a written agreement. This is to ensure transparency and to prevent any doubts to the agreement at a later stage. It is highly recommended that any temporary agreement is drafted by a family lawyer.

If you have drafted an agreement yourself, ensure the document is looked over by a family lawyer, to make sure that it doesn’t cause problems in the future.

PLEASE NOTE: If the court order is more than 12 months old, you have the option of making an application for a maintenance calculation to be undertaken by the Child Maintenance Service. This needs careful consideration, as a maintenance calculation by the Child Maintenance Service will override the child maintenance provision contained within the court order. This could be a double edged sword but could also offer some protection.

Top 5 tips:

  • Communication is key. Let the other parent or Child Maintenance Service, if applicable, know of changes as quickly as possible.
  • Discuss the matter open and frankly with the other parent.
  • Where possible, provide any evidence of how your income has been reduced.
  • Seek legal advice when making any changes to a written agreement or court order to prevent any problems at a later stage.
  • Try to understand the other parent is going through financial worry too.

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About the Author
Nathalie Payne, Chartered Legal Executive (FCILEx)

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