Through no fault of your own, you have been laid off, or your income has been lowered because of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis. This is a confusing and stressful time: what effect does this have on your legal obligation to pay child support and/or spousal support? What options are there if you cannot pay? What will the long term effects of any non-payment be? The lawyers at Henderson Heinrichs LLP are trained to deal with these as well as many other issues and can help you through a situation you face. Here is some information to help you start making sense of the situation:
- If you have a court order or a family law agreement which sets out that you have to pay child support or spousal support, that order or agreement remains valid and binding unless it is changed. This means that unless the other party agrees or you a court changes your order, you continue to be liable for the payments, and any that you miss will have to be paid back.
- The most basic question that a court will ask before changing a child or spousal support order is whether there has been an unforeseen material change in circumstances. A pandemic and its associated financial fallout seems like it would obviously fit into that category, but the court will look at your specific circumstances. Is your layoff or slowdown permanent or will it be back to business as usual when the crisis ebbs? Do you still have the ability to pay during the lay off period? Are you receiving benefits from other sources such as government subsidies? If so, these will be included in a determination of your income. It is unlikely that anyone will take the position that the Covid-19 crisis could have been foreseen, so if your income has taken an unavoidable and long term downturn, you may be able to change your order or agreement.
- If your drop in income is temporary, and you are aware that your income will once again rise to where it was, you may be able to try to change your order to reflect this year’s lower income. Henderson Heinrichs LLP can help you negotiate with the other party to reach a reasonable resolution based on your current circumstances.
- Rather than making unilateral decisions, it is most often best to involve the other party and try to reach an agreement about what will be paid given the changes. If you and the other party cannot reach a decision, you may wish to explore mediation, in which a trained professional can help you and the other party come to a mutually acceptable agreement.
- Until the social distancing requirements are relaxed, the courts in British Columbia have largely shut down are not hearing any applications apart from those which are urgent. While a loss of income and the pressures associated with an outstanding maintenance agreement or court order is extremely important, the court will likely not hear any variation proceedings until after the shutdown ends.
- You should be aware that any decisions you make now about paying less to the other party will have an effect after the crisis ends. It is very important that you know and understand what options you have and what the repercussions of each of those options are.
- Even after the court restarts full operation, there is likely to be a large backlog of cases to be heard. This means that it could take some time for your matter to be heard by the courts, making it more important that you make the right decision now, and that you explore every option available to you to resolve the matter outside of the court system.
If you have questions about your maintenance payments during and after the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) crisis, and if you are facing a drop in income, please contact Henderson Heinrichs LLP to talk with one of our lawyers. We offer a free half-hour consultation by phone or video conference during which we can talk to you about your situation and about what we can do to help you.