Tips on Collecting and Paying Child and Spousal Support Amid COVID-19

These are certainly unprecedented and challenging times.  COVID-19 has created and added stress in all areas of our lives, including incomes and finances.  For those who receive, or pay, monthly child or spousal support there is now an added level of risk.  Will the payor of support be laid off, meaning that the recipient may lose the support they rely on to support themselves or their children?  Will both the recipient and payor lose their jobs and, if so, will there be enough money to go around?  For those individuals facing such scenarios, this article aims to provide some practical tips on how to manage these issues during COVID-19. 

Please note: this article is not meant to provide legal advice and we recommend individuals seek out legal advice relevant to their particular circumstances. 

For the Recipients of Support:

For those individuals receiving support, outlined below are some steps to consider taking when the payor of support has been laid off, their wage has been cut, or there has been some other reduction in their income and they are unable to pay the full amount of support.

  1. Investigate

The first thing you may wish to do is ask some questions of the payor.  Some questions you may consider asking are:

  • Were they laid off or was their wage/salary reduced?
  • How much was their wage/salary reduced by?
  • If they’ve been laid off, are they eligible for Employment Insurance (“EI”) benefits?
    • If so, how much are they receiving?
    • Is their employer “topping up” their income so that, between EI and the “top up”, they are receiving about the same income as before?
  • If they are not eligible for EI, are they eligible for any of the new, government-created support programs?

The main thing here is to ensure that the payor has exhausted their options to maximize their income and to figure out what they are earning.  This allows you to better assess the amount of support they may be able to pay for the time being.

Regarding child support, once you have assessed what the payor’s level of income is, you may wish to determine a rough estimate of what their child support obligation is so that you can compare it to what they paid prior to COVID-19.  The following link provides a calculator which can be used: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/fl-df/child-enfant/2017/look-rech.asp#Lookup

  1. Assess finances/needs

Once you have some idea of how much support can be paid for now, assess your needs and determine how you can best make this work for your budget and expenses.  How much has your own income decreased due to COVID-19?  Have any of your expenses changed because of COVID-19? 

While your needs are not relevant to the amount of child support, which is based on income alone, needs are considered in determining the amount of spousal support.  However, even if you only receive child support, from a practical standpoint, determining what your needs are is important in budgeting and managing expenses on a reduced income.    

Bear in mind the increased Canada Child Benefit payments and GST payments announced by the government as these could help bridge the gap.  Receiving less support, whether it be spousal or child support, will obviously result in some adjustment to your spending ability. However, it is important to be realistic and remember that money cannot be created from thin air; if the payor is receiving less income, you will have to be practical and accept that there is simply not as much money to go around at the moment.

Ultimately, the payor may not be able to pay the full amount of support you were receiving.  You should also bear in mind that the payor may later apply to the Court to reduce any arrears of support owing based on their reduced income.

If the payor asks you to sign an agreement accepting less support in the interim, we recommend that you seek the advice of a lawyer before agreeing to or signing anything.

  1. Keep communication open

It is a good idea to check in with the payor once in a while to determine if their situation has changed.  Perhaps they have been called back to work or are receiving another source of funds from which support can be paid.

For the Payor of Support:

For those individuals paying support, outlined below are some steps to consider taking when you have been laid off, your wage has been cut, or there has been some other reduction in your income:

  1. Investigate sources of income

If you have been laid off, determine if you are eligible for EI benefits.  If you are not eligible for EI, you may be eligible for the newly introduced Canada Emergency Response Benefit plan.  Investigate your sources of income fully to ensure you are taken care of and have some means of providing support.

  1. Assess finances/needs

Depending on your income level, it could be that you are receiving relatively the same amount of income on EI or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.  If so, you can continue paying the full amount of spousal and/or child support. 

Even if your income has declined, if there is a court order or other agreement specifying the amount of child and/or spousal support to be paid, you do not want to find yourself in breach of that order or agreement.  Further, you still have a legal obligation to support your children.  Securing an agreement to a lesser amount of support will help you avoid being in breach of the court order or agreement. 

  1. Communicate with recipient to see what their needs are

Once you have assessed your own finances, needs, and ability to pay support, opening the lines of communication with the recipient is the next step.  Explaining your situation in a frank and honest manner will go a long way in building trust.  You should ask questions to understand what the needs of the recipient/children’s household are, whether there has been a shortfall in their income as well, etc.  Once the information is out in the open, you can hopefully work with the recipient to establish a level of support that works for both people during COVID-19. 

  1. Reaching an agreement on the amount of support to be paid

If you are able to reach an agreement with the recipient on a lesser amount of support while your income is reduced, it is a good idea to have the agreement in writing.  Regarding spousal support, parties are allowed to agree to a different amount of support than that specified in an order.  With respect to child support, parents are allowed to agree to different amounts of support, so long as the amount of support provides reasonable support for the children.  The Family Maintenance Act, 1997 (Saskatchewan) provides that a parent has an obligation to provide support for their children to the extent they are capable of doing so.  If your income decreases, the extent to which you are capable of providing support has decreased.  

Before entering into any agreement for support, even a temporary agreement, we recommend seeking the help and advice of a lawyer.

For more information, please contact:

 

Curtis P. Clavelle

306.933.1341

Email: c.clavelle@rslaw.com

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