The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact all of us even as the country begins to open up again. With a bleak forecast of Singapore's economy shrinking by 7 to 4 per cent, it is no surprise that many have suffered mandatory pay cuts, or worse, have already been made redundant.
An added financial pressure to those who are already struggling would be the stress of breaching a court-ordered obligation to maintain their children or ex-spouse, but can no longer afford to do so.
What happens if I fail to comply with a Court order for maintenance?
Your spouse would be entitled to apply to Court for enforcement of such a Court order. In a worse-case scenario, the Court is empowered to, amongst others, issue a Warrant for your arrest, or impose a fine or jail term as a result of your breach.
What can I do to avoid that?
If there has been a change of your financial circumstances (i.e. if you have suffered a mandatory pay cut, or been made redundant) you should reach out to your ex-spouse to try and seek agreement for the amount of maintenance payable to be lowered temporarily until the economy recovers and you manage to find a new job. Certainly this would be worth trying if you are still on good terms with your ex-spouse. Understandably, not everyone is on good terms with their ex-spouse. In such a situation, you may need to obtain a variation from the Court to your existing Court-ordered maintenance obligations.
Can my ex-spouse also apply to Court to vary an existing Court order for maintenance?
It is important to remember that the effects of the pandemic may not have affected only you, but your ex-spouse as well – a dad who is obligated to maintain his ex-wife and child may have lost his job; at the same time, his ex-wife who has been relying on him to supplement the family's expenses may have also suffered a pay cut. She too would equally have the right to apply to the Court to seek an increase in the quantum of maintenance payable by her ex-husband.
If both you and your ex-spouse make applications for variation of the existing Court-ordered maintenance obligations, the Court would usually arrange for them to be heard together, and decide on an appropriate next course of action.
Mediation – a cost saving alternative
It is important to note that the Family Courts in Singapore adopts a judge-led approach where judges have the power to order that parties attend compulsory mediation to try and resolve the matter before it turns contentious. Parties are encouraged to go through mediation to attempt to resolve the matter or at least narrow specific issues in contention before proceeding to a contested hearing as a last resort. Mediation is more time and cost-effective than Court. If an agreement can be reached during mediation, it can be recorded as a Consent Order of Court which binds the parties, and the matter would rest there. This is the best outcome.
If you need legal advice on variation of maintenance orders, be it by way of an agreement, through mediation, or through the Courts, please contact us and we will be happy to guide you through.