Child/Spousal Support & COVID-19
Published May 1, 2020
Associated Areas of law
Understanding Your Obligations during a Pandemic
From the outset, one of the prevailing concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the financial impact that would be felt by Canadian families. Businesses have faced unprecedented disruptions and millions of Canadians found themselves unexpectedly unemployed.
For parents and individuals who either receive or pay child or spousal support under the terms of an agreement or court order, these sudden changes create even more stress and uncertainty. Support orders are typically tied to an individual’s income; child support orders, for instance, may rely on one or both parents’ incomes to determine the appropriate amount of support that should be paid. If the payor parent has a sudden decrease in income that will likely impact their ability to provide child support.
What should I do if I have lost my job and I have a child/spousal support order?
Ordinarily, if the payor had suffered a job loss, they would be able to apply to the Court and seek a variation to their Order. However, as of May 1, 2020, the Courts in Nova Scotia are operating under an essential services model and are only hearing matters on an emergency or urgent basis.
Given the extraordinary circumstances we are presently facing, individuals are encouraged to openly communicate with one another and try to reach a compromise. If you are trying to determine child support, tools such as the Child Support Calculator on the Federal Department of Justice website (https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/fl-df/child-enfant/2017/look-rech.asp) can help you determine a more appropriate amount based on your current income.
If you are trying to determine spousal support, or have a more complicated parenting arrangement such as shared or split custody, you may wish to consult with a lawyer to discuss your options and determine the appropriate level of support.
You may choose to temporarily change the terms of your agreement or order while the present conditions are in effect, or to revisit the terms periodically (such as every sixty or ninety days). It is often helpful if any changes are written down in an email or other note, and that both parties keep a copy, to avoid any misunderstandings later.
What if we can’t reach an agreement and I can’t afford to keep paying support?
If you have a court order or an agreement, the expectation is that you will honour that order or agreement and you should do whatever you can to do so.
However, if you are unable to keep paying support in accordance with an order or agreement, you may still be able to seek a retroactive decrease in support once the courts resume normal operations. This means that you would ask the Court to look back and change the Order or agreement as of the date you were forced to stop paying or decrease your payments.
There is no guarantee that you will receive a retroactive decrease in child support. If the judge finds that you had sufficient means to continue to pay support at the previous level, and you chose not to, they will order you to pay back any missed amount as arrears. Those arrears may be owed as a lump-sum or as additional amounts added on to your current support payment.
If you are considering reducing your support payment unilaterally (that is, without the consent of the other party) it is important to contact a lawyer for legal advice and guidance.
My child’s parent/former partner has stopped paying support; what can I do?
Under the Court’s essential services model, failure to pay child or spousal support is not generally considered an urgent or emergency matter. If your former partner has stopped paying support, we would encourage you to communicate with them to determine what challenges they are facing at this time and try to reach a compromise.
When the courts resume normal operations, you can seek an order for any arrears which may have accumulated during this time.
If you are facing dire financial circumstances due to a former partner’s failure to pay support, consider speaking to a lawyer for further advice and guidance.
Can the Maintenance Enforcement Program change support orders due to COVID-19?
The Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) does not have the authority to change court orders. However, they have indicated that they will work with both payors and recipients to assesstheir options and that they will take into account individual circumstances when determining what enforcement measures are reasonable and appropriate.
At Patterson Law, our offices are working virtually to maintain the health and safety of our clients, communities, and employees. We remain committed to serving your needs, and we have secure, trusted, and tested technology in place that allows us to remain fully operational on a remote-work basis. Our Family Law Group is here to help you navigate through your own family law issues, and we would be happy to arrange a telephone or video conference to discuss any questions or concerns you may have at this time.