Cost of Living Crisis and Christmas – How Might This Impact Separated Couples?
With the festive season fast approaching, it is looking to be a difficult time for divorced and separated couples across the UK as the cost of living crisis will inevitably increase stresses and strains felt in many families who are being pushed to the edge.
It was recently reported that inflation is reaching a 40-year high, with energy bills and mortgage rates soaring and the price of food rising at its fastest pace since 2008. This is exacerbated by pay increases not reflecting the rising prices. For those feeling the pinch financially, it is likely to create additional tensions as Christmas approaches. This is particularly pertinent in those families dealing with separation, co-parenting and child arrangements at Christmas time, which can already be a tricky time to navigate.
There are a number of issues which might arise when considering how the cost of living crisis might impact you in the run up to Christmas and any arrangements you have with your former partner and/or the children.
For divorcing couples, one of the available avenues in financial remedy proceedings is spousal maintenance. Spousal maintenance can either be agreed between the parties or ordered by the court as part of financial remedy proceedings if the financially weaker party cannot support themselves without the help of the other.
With the cost of living crisis, parties may wish to re-visit agreements which have previously been made, especially if they have an order for maintenance which is not index-linked (so it will not increase with the rate of inflation). It is unlikely that any agreements prior to this year would have foreseen the financial turmoil to come.
Both the receiver of spousal maintenance as well as the payer may wish to apply to the court to vary the amount of maintenance in light of the current financial landscape. The payer of the maintenance may find themselves unable to afford the ongoing maintenance payments as a result of the current economic hardship and the rocketing inflation rates. On the other hand, the receiver may be unable to meet their own needs as well as those of the children with the amount that they are currently receiving.
A variation of spousal maintenance occurs in circumstances where there is a change in personal or financial circumstances. Payments should not stop or be varied without the agreement of both parties. If payments are stopped or varied without consent, this would be a breach of the court order.
It is possible to achieve a variation by directly agreeing, using solicitors to help you negotiate, mediation or, as a last resort, applying to court. It is always best to seek early legal advice for a specialist family lawyer to review your circumstances and give you an indication as to what is likely to happen in your situation.
We have previously produced a blog on varying spousal maintenance which provides a deeper insight on this topic.
Maintenance in relation to children is generally dealt with under the jurisdiction of the Child Maintenance Service (“CMS”). It is calculated based on the payer’s gross income, so it will only change in line with any pay rises. With incomes being stretched, it is important to consider whether the current child maintenance received is at the correct rate. Our dedicated children specialists are able to assist with challenging the CMS.
Child arrangements at Christmas
Child arrangements at Christmas can often be a bone of contention between parties. It is arguably one of the toughest times for co-parents to navigate. Whilst we have previously written a blog on this, with financial hardship exacerbating matters we are conscious that this year there may be other issues rising to the surface such as arguments about how much to spend on presents.
These are some of our top tips:
1. Keep the children at the heart of any plans
To keep the Christmas spirit alive, it is important to try to prevent children being dragged into any disputes about how time over Christmas is spent or issues over the amount of money spent on Christmas presents. It is important that the children have a special and enjoyable time with both parents. Try to plan ahead so that the children are able to get excited about the arrangements and try to discuss Christmas presents in advance.
Remember to enjoy the time you have to celebrate with your child on whatever day it may be.
2. Be fair to the other parent
It is understandable that this will be a very challenging and raw time for families dealing with separation. Try to think about the impact on the other party and reach arrangements that you are both happy with and address any financial disparity.
3. Maintain good lines of communication
It is important to be flexible and try to give each other reasonable notice of your plans or any changes to plans.
Try to prepare for the period as early as possible to avoid disputes and talk to your ex-partner to try to agree arrangements that work for everybody. If this is not possible, seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity.
For specialist advice on any family law related issue contact Maguire Family Law by email: email@example.com or telephone: