Angela Walker – April 2020
COVID 19 is taking a toll on individual incomes. People are being laid off or working hours are being reduced. People are finding it hard to make ends meet. As this occurs, the effect on an individual’s ability to pay child and spousal support is also being gravely impacted.
The Courts are still unable to address, for the most part, changes to child and spousal support that may arguably be necessary because of significant changes in income unless they are urgent. It is unclear what the Court may deem as urgent in the context of support cases.
In the recent decision from the Ontario Courts of Jumale v. Mahamad,  O.J. No. 1423 the Court noted the following:
11 In general, the layoff of an employed person due to COVID 19 closures and that person’s receipt of Employment Insurance could well provide a compelling reason to temporarily reduce child support obligations.
Certainly, it is open to parties to seek a “pre-ruling” from the Courts on whether the facts of an individual case could meet this burden. It may be that a looming bankruptcy, a loss of a home, or an inability to meet basic personal needs because of a drastic drop in income may be deemed “urgent”. We are also aware that the Courts are making all best efforts to increase accessibility but to date, we are unsure when the Courts will be opened to generally accept applications to vary support.
In the meantime, what can you do as either a payor or recipient of support? The following tips and suggestions are gleaned from Family Law Information During the COVID-19 Pandemic:
- Gather all financial information you have that confirms your employment situation (Record of Employment, a letter from employer etc.) and confirmation of your 2019 income (T-information slips).
- Apply to any Federal and Provincial Programs for which you may qualify.
- Contact the Maintenance Enforcement Program (MEP) to update them on your employment situation and provide them with the financial and other information you have gathered. The Maintenance Enforcement Program cannot vary your payment amount, but may be able to adjust enforcement measures in light of your new circumstances.
With the advent of government programming, a reduction in support payments may be made more feasible if the recipient is able to “tap into” a new stream of revenue through government programs such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit or through programs offered by banks such as mortgage deferral. The additional payment that will be forthcoming for the child tax credit will also have some impact. Creative approaches can be found when the entire pool of money – and additional cash flow that may be created by deferrals – is fully assessed.
It is also advisable to seek legal advice. Lawyers can assist in a number of ways:
- A lawyer can assist you in assessing whether you may have an “urgent” claim and can draft submissions for a pre-ruling form the Court regarding the same.
- A lawyer can help prepare materials to provide to MEP so that they have the exact information required to provide the most meaningful assistance. A lawyer can also liaise directly with MEP, on your behalf, in an effort to find a solution.
- A lawyer can also reach out to the other party on your behalf, or his or her lawyer, to see if a reasonable solution can be negotiated. We have been finding, thus far, good success with this approach.
While there are no perfect solutions, the team at MDW Law have years of experience assisting clients with negotiating support orders. Please contact a member of our team today if you have any questions at 902.422.5881 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.