As many people are being laid off from their jobs, or being forced to take time off work to care for their children, it is inevitable that individuals will begin facing financial pressures which may ultimately impact their ability to pay support. If you have an existing Court Order, or Agreement, the Family Responsibility Office (“FRO”) can assist in collecting any support payments, should same be necessary. As of current, there is no indication or directive that the FRO has ceased enforcement measures at this time, or that there is any intention that they will.
That said, if you are a payor who, for whatever reason, cannot make your support payments – it is important to be transparent with this from the very beginning, and ensure that you continue to make best efforts to comply within your means. Remember, the person who is receiving this support relies on same in order to pay their expenses, and as such efforts should be made to reduce and cut back on other expenses, before trying to reduce your support obligations.
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If you are a payee, try to remain flexible where flexibility is available. By way of example, consider different payment options, such as payments being made bi-weekly, instead of monthly, or providing a temporary discount to be re-paid when the payors financial circumstance stabilizes. Remember, in usual circumstances, something like a job loss that is outside of a payors control would constitute a material change in circumstances which could justify a reduction in the amount of support you are receiving. Therefore you may be in a better position to try and negotiate, than to have the matter dealt with by a court and risk having support reduced, or suspended.
What is most important to remember is that these are unprecedented times, and therefore it is difficult to assess exactly how financial issues caused by COVID-19 will be determined by Courts, by way of example:
- If temporary layoffs will justify a variation of support
- How government assistance will factor in to the payment of support and
- Whether or not Courts will be looking at a payors efforts to mitigate loss of income (i.e. taking advantage of government incentives, reducing other expenses before seeking to suspend/terminate child support, etc.)
As such, negotiations will always be preferable as you can craft a temporary arrangement that works for both parties, without having to engage in costly and protracted litigation on developing and discretionary issues.
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If you need help assessing the best course of action for you, contact Shulman and Partners LLP for a free 30 minute consultation.