If you are a divorced parent with a child, you may find the following information helpful in navigating your child maintenance orders during the global outbreak of COVID-19, or more commonly known as the Coronavirus.
I have an existing child maintenance order. What happens if I cannot continue making payments because I have lost my job?
Communication is key. Wherever possible, you should first speak to your former spouse about your financial situation and see if parties are able to come to a temporary alternative arrangement for child maintenance payments. Open communication may prevent matters from escalating to expensive litigation. It may help to assure your former spouse that you will resume paying the original maintenance sum as soon as you are able to.
If parties are unable to reach an informal agreement, you may apply to vary the child maintenance order. You will have to satisfy the Court that there has been a material and ongoing change in your circumstances. The sudden loss of employment is likely to be sufficient material change for the Court to grant a variation. To bolster your application, you will need to submit documentary evidence such as your letter of termination, bank account statements, and receipts showing your expenses.
It is important to be mindful that the Court will take into account whether you have made any mitigating efforts. For example, the Court will expect you to take advantage of any applicable financial schemes rolled out by the Government.
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What will happen if I do not wish to speak to my former spouse and just stop making payments?
Your failure to comply with the existing child maintenance order is equivalent to a breach of the court order. Your former spouse can take out an application in Court to enforce the child maintenance order and seek payment of backdated maintenance.
If the application is successful, the Court will order that you pay your former spouse the child maintenance arrears in monthly installments or in one lumpsum payment. The Court may also grant your former spouse an Attachment of Earnings. This means that the monthly child maintenance payable by you will be automatically deducted from your salary and credited to your former spouse’s designated bank account.
Under more extreme circumstances, the Court has the power to order your imprisonment for up to one month for each month of unpaid maintenance. However, even if you are imprisoned, you still remain responsible for paying the maintenance owed after your release.
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What are my options if my child has to undergo a sudden and expensive medical treatment or procedure?
Depending on how your existing child maintenance order is worded, if any, the cost of medical treatments or procedures may be shared or reimbursed by your former spouse. Where it is not expressly provided for in the order, medical treatments or procedures may fall under ad-hoc expenses.
If your existing child maintenance order is silent on how parties should deal with the payment of your child’s medical treatments or procedures, you may seek for a variation of the current maintenance order to include the new medical expenses. The same principles of variation apply. In the event you do not have an existing child maintenance order, it is open to you to make a post-divorce application. Under Singapore law, parents are required to provide for their child until they are of age.
As a starting point, it is always advisable to speak to your former spouse about such expenses and to come to a financial arrangement that both parties will be comfortable with. After all, both parents share a joint and continuing obligation to contribute towards the maintenance of their child.