For most Canadians, COVID-19 has had an impact on financial security. To build on our previous blog post on changes to child support, this week we want to highlight the effects on spousal support. If there has been a change to your income, and you can’t afford your spousal support, this blog post will help clarify what you can do. Whether you are a payer or recipient of spousal support, Westside Family Law is here to help.
Agreements Still Apply
Similar to child custody arrangements, spousal support agreements continue to apply during the pandemic. Changes to spousal support agreements or court orders are warranted when there is a significant change in financial circumstances. However, the extraordinary situation of COVID-19 does not serve as an automatic justification for changes to, deferral or refusal to pay spousal support without following legal procedures. If you do not take appropriate legal action and fall behind on spousal support payments, the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP) can take serious action.
Don’t Delay Communication
Address the issue as soon as possible. Notify your ex as soon as a change to income is known. Any delay in communication will work against you when it comes to a court judgment. It is in your own best legal interest to do everything you can to minimize the consequences.
If you have a FMEP Enforcement Officer assigned to your case, get in touch with them to discuss alternative payment options. If your case is not enrolled with FMEP, try to make alternative arrangements with your ex.
Keep meticulous records and documentation of your financial situation as early on as possible. This includes changes to income, applications to federal or provincial financial benefits, how much you have to pay and to whom. This will help justify your case for reduced payments before the courts. The more detailed record of your budget, the better.
A recent Ontario Supreme Court decision outlined the minimum evidence required to prove dire financial circumstances, including:
- Previous income before COVID-19
- Total income now, from all sources
- Personal and business expenses
- Extent of additional resources (entire safety net and its limits)
Although the courts are closed for non-urgent matters, you must be prepared to prove any changes to your finances before the courts to appeal the spousal support change.
Partial Payments are Better than No Payments
There is a big difference between no payment and a partial payment. The less you fall behind on payments, the better. If spousal support payments are reduced or stopped without a change to the court order or agreement, the outstanding amount will accumulate as arrears. If you cannot pay the full amount outlined in the spousal support agreement or court order, pay as much as you can. Paying even a partial sum will reduce future consequences.
Get in Touch
If you need help navigating changes to spousal support, get in touch with us today. Our lawyers are ready to assist you with any questions and concerns you may have regarding spousal support and other family law matters.