If you have lost your income because of the coronavirus pandemic, you may no longer be able to meet maintenance payments to your ex that have previously been agreed. In this case, it may be possible for the payments to be either reduced or suspended until you have found alternative work.
If you can no longer afford to meet the payments set out in your Financial Order, it's best to try and reach an agreement with your ex before taking the matter to the Court. While it is possible for a Financial Order to be changed in Court, once the Order has been sealed by the Court it can be an extremely difficult and lengthy process to get it amended.
How Can a Financial Order Be Amended?
To get a sealed Court Order updated, there needs to be an exceptional change in circumstance. The matter will need to be taken to Court where a judge will decide whether or not to amend the original Order based on the new information.
The loss of your job as a result of the coronavirus outbreak could be deemed to be an exceptional change in circumstance. However, the Courts are currently working through severe backlogs that have built up as a result of them working with a reduced workforce during the lockdown. This means that you will be unlikely to get a court hearing scheduled for at least 2 to 3 months, by which time your circumstances may have changed again.
For this reason, we recommend that as a first step you speak to your ex and try to reach an agreement with them. If you are not able (or comfortable) to speak to your ex directly, you can instruct a Solicitor to carry out these discussions on your behalf.
Hopefully, you will be able to agree a variation of the current arrangement and find something that works for both of you until you either find a new job or get a hearing date to have the Order amended.
What Will Happen at the Court Hearing?
If you do attend a hearing to ask for the order to be amended, there are a number of factors that the Court will take into consideration.
Firstly, they will want to be satisfied that once lockdown is lifted and people can return to work, you will be able to find employment again. If they conclude that this is the case, there is every likelihood that the amended Order will contain a slight variation giving you the ability to pause payments for a period of time.
The other consideration that the Court will want to take into account is how your inability to make the previously arranged payments will impact your ex and any children that may be involved. The Court will always place the needs of children as their primary concern and they will only agree to amend an Order if they believe this to be the fair and right approach for all involved.