What to do When Your Income Decreases Due to COVID-19 and You Are Paying Support

By Allison R. McAlpine

During this COVID-19 financial and health crisis in our community many people, unfortunately, are laid off or their income has decreased significantly. This article details the steps that you must take if you are in the Barrie, Ontario area and you need to lower your support during this crisis.

If you are paying child support and/or spousal support and your income has been lowered as a result of this COVID-19 crisis, generally, the Family Responsibility Office (FRO) will still collect support from you using their means under your most recent court order or separation agreement. As a result, if your income has lowered since that agreement or court order, you should be seeking to get the agreement/court order changed as soon as your income decreases.

If you are paying child and/or spousal support under a separation agreement, then you should start the process to amend that agreement with an amending agreement. You should let the other party (the recipient) know, in writing, of the change to your income, provide documents to prove same, and provide a proposal, even if temporary. If you and the recipient agree to the change in support then you should hire a lawyer to prepare an amending agreement and have that filed with FRO. If you and the recipient do not agree, then you have to start Court to get the Order changed by either an application (if the support order is not filed with FRO) or a motion to change (if it is filed with FRO).

If you are paying child and/or spousal support under a court order, then you need a new court order to change that support order. This can be done with a Consent Motion to Change in which you and the recipient sign certain court documents agreeing to the change and filing them with the court. If you and the recipient do not agree on the change then you have to bring a contested Motion to Change court proceeding.

The problem with having to start Court is that the Courts are not available right now except for urgent situations. Please speak with your lawyer if you think that you have an urgent situation including an urgent financial situation. Your lawyer will be able to advise you on your particular case.
Another alternative that is good in the short term is you and the recipient agreeing to withdraw from FRO until you are back to work or until the Courts re-open for regular cases. This means that the FRO will stop collecting the support. This is not a good solution in the long term though because the recipient can re-file with FRO at any time (for a small fee) and the support that you should have been paying all along under the Agreement or Court Order will suddenly become due as the arrears have built up. At the end of the day, you have to get the Agreement or Court Order changed.

It is advisable that if a party is facing a decreased income given this COVID-19 crisis and you are either paying or receiving child or spousal support that you contact a lawyer for a consultation about the situation as soon as possible. Our office is offering phone consultations during this time. If you would like to book a phone consultation please contact our office at 705-302-3696 or allison@chapmanmcalpine.com.

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