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Parents seeking to use coronavirus to avoid maintenance payments

Lawyers are reporting an increase in parents using the coronavirus pandemic to avoid paying their monthly maintenance payments.

With incomes and livelihoods under pressure as a result of the economic shock caused by the crisis, there are an increasing number of instances of individuals unilaterally stopping monthly maintenance payments overnight, without discussing any potential variation of payments, or evidencing a genuine change of financial circumstances.

A Senior Associate in our Taunton Family team, says the rise in this behaviour is unfortunate and warns that failing to make these payments can lead to significant difficulties and distress for clients relying on maintenance as a source of income.

“Of course, this is a difficult time for everyone and we understand that divorced spouses and separated partners or parents, who have perhaps had their hours cut or pay reduced will be under more financial strain than usual, but there are ways to get help and simply cutting off maintenance payments is unconscionable.

“Such action puts families and children at risk and creates a wave of knock on impacts. At Clarke Willmott we are seeing such actions impacting even the most vulnerable divorcees and it is very difficult to witness the fall out.

“This behaviour is unacceptable, in particular where a vulnerable person is concerned. We have seen an increase in enquiries on this issue so we want people to know that it’s not acceptable.”

Anthony Fairweather is handling one such case. Anthony, who is the Managing Director of our Private Client team and a leading UK Court of Protection Attorney, is representing a vulnerable client – Client A – who is being looked after at home under the Court of Protection. Her ex-husband has advised that he is unilaterally withdrawing court ordered maintenance payments without any official approval to do so, citing financial pressure caused by coronavirus as the reason.

Our family team continues: “Where there is a court order in place, maintenance should only be stopped either by agreement between the parties or following a formal variation by the court. Where a divorced spouse, separated partner or parent seeks to use this pandemic to avoid their obligations they can expect to be asked to provide evidence of their financial position, or potentially enforcement applications to be issued at court where necessary.

“Those who find themselves unable to pay should themselves take advice before ending payments as a temporary agreement may be reached by negotiation, mediation or arbitration, or by an application to the courts.

“I would urge anyone affected to get in touch with me directly to discuss possible solutions before it results in any undue stress or hardship being inflicted on families.”

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