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If you find yourself at the paying end of a maintenance order, you may now be in a situation where you no longer have the income to afford the monthly amount the court ordered you to pay.

If the court has ordered you to make certain payments on a specific date or within a particular time frame, technically you should make those payments until the court says you no longer have to. , If you have to pay £500 per month to your former spouse on the 1st of each month, you should continue to make that payment until the court says you no longer have to.

There are two ways you may be able to change the amount you are required to pay your former spouse or civil partner.

  • By agreement with your former spouse or civil partner

If the two of you can come to a different arrangement, this new arrangement should be incorporated into a Consent Order and sent to the court to approve.  Once approved, the new arrangement applies. The new arrangements can deal with what should happen if any arrears of, or shortfall in, maintenance has occurred.  You can reach this agreement yourselves or with the help of a solicitor or mediator.

  • Apply to the court to vary the amount payable

This involves the paying party completing a ‘Form A – Notice of Application’, ticking the box ‘to apply to vary’ and then the appropriate box(es) that applies to your circumstances.

You will then need to complete the rest of the form as it applies to you.

On page 10 of the form, you will need a mediator to certify that you either tried mediation and your former spouse or civil partner refused to join in the mediation process, or that it did not/will not work.

The completed form should then be emailed to the court that made the original maintenance order, with a request that the court emails you to confirm it has received the application and to call you so that you can pay by card the court fee (as of 01.04.20 – £155) for making the application.

Please be aware that the court service is under huge strain currently, as many of its staff are either self-isolating or socially distancing themselves. As a result, we have heard that it may take many months for the court to issue your application. But at least you will have done all you can to obtain a variation.

Child support

If you need to change the amount you pay by way of child support and your Order is more than 12 months old, you could apply to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to carry out a new assessment of you. Once an assessment has been carried out, all further issues relating to the payment of child support will be dealt with by the CMS.

If you are still in the first 12 months of a child maintenance order, you will need to apply to the court for a variation.

Other ways to resolve the issue

Clients are often advised that court should be the last option. As we all come to terms with living with COVID-19, it is inevitable that many people will have suffered a reduction in their income. If this happens and they need to make alternative arrangements during the period they have a reduced income, the sensible thing would be for both parties to reach an appropriate compromise to see both of them over this difficult and stressful period.

A mediator may be able to help you reach an agreement if you cannot do so on your own.  A successful mediation is likely to be the quickest and cheapest way of resolving how much someone should pay by way of spousal maintenance.

Many mediators are currently providing online mediation, which means you and your former spouse or civil partner will not need to leave your homes.

If you do reach a compromise, it will need to be incorporated into a Consent Order for the new arrangement to be binding.  There is a court fee to pay for the court to approve a Consent Order (as at 01.04.20 – £50)

If mediation is not for you and/or your former spouse or civil partner, you could ask a solicitor to help you.

If you need further advice on the above, or any other family law matter, our family team at Debenhams Ottaway would be delighted to help.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.