Maintenance Obligations Amid Economic Crisis due to Covid-19
On 7 April 2020, the Singapore government passed a new Act, called the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) (Control Order) Act 2020 to define the details of the circuit breaker restrictions for containing the spread of Covid-19.
One of the measures in the Act called for a complete shutdown of many non-essential businesses which has caused serious costs to business owners and employees.
Another measure in the Act implemented a restriction of movement on Singapore residents with exceptions in limited circumstances. Many Singapore residents have suffered economic hardship due to Covid-19 and the government’s measures.
If you have unfortunately been affected economically and are struggling to fulfil your maintenance obligation, we have summarised your legal options in this article.
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Enforcement of maintenance order
As the Family Justice Courts have vacated all case conferences, status conferences, mediations, hearings, and trials from 7 April 2020 to 4 May 2020 during the circuit breaker period, this consequentially means that parties may not be able to engage in Court applications unless the Court deems it as urgent.
If you now face a current change to employment status due to Covid-19 and you are unable to fulfill your maintenance obligations, your ex-spouse may choose to enforce the maintenance order against you in the Family Justice Courts which can be lodged as a Magistrate's Complaint for any such breaches. One should file a maintenance complaint to vary the existing maintenance order.
The Court will consider the reasons that you are not paying the maintenance order and may make the following orders depending on your reasons for not paying: -
- Order for the outstanding maintenance sum as of the date of the order to be paid (in a single payment or monthly installments);
- Order a short-term reduction in the maintenance sum with additional sums to be paid once the grace period is over;
- In the event where Courts find that there is a default in maintenance payments, the Court may sentence your ex-spouse to a jail term of up to one month for each month of unpaid maintenance;
- Issue a warrant to seize and sell any property belonging to your ex-spouse and pay the proceeds to you;
- Make an Attachment of Earnings Order such that your ex-spouse’s employer will pay the amount of maintenance to you from your ex-spouse’s salary;
- Order the defaulting ex-spouse to undergo unpaid community service for up to 40 hours; and/or
- Garnish debts owed to your ex-spouse (those who owe your ex-spouse money will pay you instead)
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Cost-effective solution: Negotiation
The most cost-effective way is to negotiate this with your ex-spouse, and if possible, for parties to come to a consensus on a new maintenance arrangement for the short term until the Covid-19 situation improves.
We suggest that this is done via email or Whatsapp message for documentation. Otherwise, if you are unsure whether or not parties’ positions are reasonable, our team of Divorce Lawyers at Gloria James-Civetta & Co. can assist in providing you advice on this.
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Court Application: Variation of Maintenance Order
We are unsure for how long this Covid-19 situation will last. However, if you are a defaulting party as your employment situation is affected for a long period of time due to Covid-19, then you may wish to vary the maintenance order for a lower sum based on the ground that there has been a “material change in circumstances” due to a change of employment situation.
We suggest that if you wish to do so, that you gather evidence (eg: documents, pay slips etc.) for future proceedings. An argument that the other party may raise in response is that you could find employment elsewhere. As such, we also suggest that you start to gather evidence of your attempts to gain employment, and any unfavourable responses that you receive.
We also note that there are other “material change in circumstances” that warrant a change in the court order for maintenance such as bankruptcy, changes in cost of living, inheritance and remarriage.
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How our lawyers can help you
If you are unsure about how to enforce your maintenance order or how to start to negotiate with your spouse on varying maintenance order, our team of Divorce Lawyers at Gloria James-Civetta & Co. can assist you. We provide you with tailored advice on how you should deal with legal issues in order to achieve the best results.