Can furlough affect maintenance payments?
Millions of people in the UK have found themselves placed on furlough leave and as a result, income has been reduced. For people who usually pay or receive maintenance for a child, this uncertainty can be worrying.
It’s important that both parents communicate to reach an amicable solution. If the paying parent has had a change in their financial circumstances, the other party should request to see correspondence or other evidence from the employer. Where possible, an agreement should be formed regarding an appropriate and fair level of maintenance. Income needs of both parents should be taken into account and a timeframe, such as three months, should be set where this can be reviewed.
If maintenance payments are managed by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) it may be able to temporarily reduce payments and send a new payment schedule if income has been lost as a result of COVID-19. Likewise, if the parent who usually receives maintenance believes that the payer can afford more than they are letting on, they can contact the CMS for an assessment.
Can my child move between households during lockdown?
Limited government guidance has been released about children moving between homes, but we do know that “Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes”.
Parents must come to a decision about whether it’s safe for their child to move between households, with consideration given to any vulnerable children or family members and the risk of infection. Communication and a pragmatic approach should be favoured at times like these but where this isn’t possible, a solicitor may be able to help reach a sensible short term arrangement.
It’s now possible for people to meet in public places such as parks, provided they keep two meters apart and are from no more than two separate households. This relaxation in the lockdown rules may offer parents other means to safely facilitate contact arrangements for their children.
I have a Child Arrangements Order in place. Will I be breaching this if I change the arrangements during lockdown?
Child Arrangements Orders (CAOs) set out where and when a child should spend their time, and usually allow parents to vary arrangements by agreement. If this is possible, parents should investigate how risks during the pandemic can be minimised. Some options could be FaceTime in place of usual contact, or reducing the amount of handovers taking place.
In the absence of an agreement, CAOs stand and should be followed. The law hasn’t changed and it’s still possible to take enforcement action against a parent who is refusing to make their child available for contact. If one party breaches an Order unnecessarily, parents should seek legal advice about where they stand.
The Court has a wide range of powers when considering any action for enforcement, and will consider whether a justified breach has happened. A reasonable breach may be where one parent has fallen ill while the child is in their care, and don’t want them leaving the house in order to follow self-isolating rules. However, parents should still maintain regular contact and in an example such as this, it would be advisable to allow the child to continue having digital “contact” with their other parent.
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