If you can no longer afford to pay your support payments because of COVID-19, don't wait until you owe money before you act. Even if your financial situation is temporary and you might be able to return to work soon, it's important that you don't fall behind in your payments.
Remember, if you have an order or agreement to pay child or spousal support, you're expected to pay it until it's changed or cancelled.
But if the change is significant or long-term, you might be able to:
- negotiate a reduction in your payments with the person you pay support to, or
- apply to change your support order or agreement.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Legal Aid BC has a new family limited representation services contract to help with child and spousal support issues, property division, negotiation and mediation support, and preparation for court. Services don’t cover divorce. Call Legal Aid BC to find out if you qualify.
Negotiating other payment options
Before you involve the courts, try to explain your financial and employment situation to the person you pay support to. Ask if they'll agree to you paying a reduced amount until you go back to work, and restarting the regular support once you're back at work. If your situation is temporary, you might even offer to pay the unpaid amount when you're back to work. If the other person doesn’t agree, try to pay something, if you can. They're likely worried about money too, and need your financial support.
If negotiating with the other person doesn't work, and especially if the change to your financial situation is long-term, try to change your order or agreement to an arrangement that's more appropriate.
Changing a court order or agreement
Usually if you can’t pay support because your financial situation has changed, you can ask the court to set aside (replace all or part of) your court order or agreement. The courts can choose to change the amount you pay if the arrangement is unfair or could cause you financial hardship.
If your income has been affected by COVID-19, and you want to change a child support order or agreement, you can get a free professional mediator to help you. See Remote Child Support Mediation on the MyLawBC website.
New process for suspending or changing support
If you need to suspend or change a Provincial Court child or spousal support filed agreement or order because of a change in income related to COVID-19, you may also take advantage of a new early resolution/expedited Provincial Court process.
The first step in the new process is for you to have a needs assessment interview by phone or videoconference. If you can both agree to change your existing agreement or order, you can get help with preparing an amended written agreement or applying to the court to change your existing order by consent.
If you can’t agree, you and the other person may be referred to mediation (if it's appropriate in your situation). You must also fill out some forms for the court (and serve them) so they can arrange a hearing by telephone or videoconference, more quickly than usual.
To apply for this process, contact Family Justice Services to schedule a needs assessment interview at 1-844-747-3963 or 250-356-7012 (Victoria) or 604-501-8282 (Surrey). You can also send an email to CSVariation@gov.bc.ca.
If you want changes to child or spousal support for reasons not related to COVID-19, you can't use this process. Instead, make an application through your local Provincial Court registry.
If you're registered with the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP)
If you’re registered with FMEP, you must contact your case manager as soon as possible to let them know your financial and employment situation.
If the person you pay support to agrees to a temporary reduction, make sure that both of you let FMEP know.
To do this:
- Gather the documents and information FMEP might need.
- Sign in to your web account.
- If you don’t have FMEP web email, follow the instructions to set one up.
- Send a web message explaining your situation.
Try to pay your regular maintenance payment or at least pay part of it, if you can.
If you're already in arrears
If you're behind in your support payments and there are arrears, e-message your FMEP case manager about the arrears. This is especially important if there's an enforcement order that requires you to pay an amount on the arrears or face jail time.
If there's an enforcement proceeding
If there’s an enforcement proceeding in court, contact the Provincial Court Registry where your matter is supposed to be heard. Your hearing may be postponed due to COVID-19 and re-scheduled at a later date.
If the proceeding is going ahead, you may be able to apply to suspend, change, or cancel the enforcement order, especially if FMEP takes serious action against you that includes the possibility of jail time.
If you want to try to change your order or agreement, see Step 6 of Attend a committal hearing (for payors).
Get legal advice
It's a good idea to some get legal help before you try change an order or agreement. A lawyer can give you advice specific to your situation. If you can't afford a lawyer, you can get legal help in other ways, including:
- Lawyer Referral Service
- free (pro bono) legal clinics
- family duty counsel
- family advice lawyers
- family justice counsellors
You're not alone. Many families are experiencing financial hardship because of COVID-19 and are uncertain how to make ends meet.
If you need help to discuss the situation with the person you pay support to and you can’t afford to pay a mediator, you can contact a family justice counsellor (1-844-747-3963) for free mediation.
You could also try to contact a family mediator to help you and the other person reach an agreement. Mediate BC is offering a low-cost option for mediation.