Can’t pay or won’t pay? – what to do when your ex stops maintenance

1 August 2014 | Written by wearefactory

By Peter Jones, Founder and Partner

Former oil trader Michael Prest has hit the headlines after being given a four week suspended jail sentence for failing to pay his ex-wife maintenance worth £360,000.

The High Court ruled that the 53-year-old, said to be worth almost £40m, had “wilfully refused or neglected” to pay his former wife Yasmin – despite spending more than £250,000 on holidays and £12,000 on tickets for a Justin Bieber concert.

And Mr Prest’s excuse? In a letter read out to the court, he said he had “engaged in the process, had not shirked responsibilities” and had taken care of his children, adding “I have not killed anyone, nor have I committed any crime… I have simply slipped on the accident of life.”

Not surprisingly, these excuses did not impress the court. As Ms Prest’s lawyer said, “This is a particularly bad case of wilful default and deliberate non-compliance to pay maintenance for the children,” despite being ordered by the court in 2011 to pay his ex-wife a lump sum of £17.5 million and annual maintenance payments of £300,000 a year.

While I welcome Mr Justice Moylan’s ruling, because it shows the family court is determined to enforce its orders, I am aware that many divorcees in this situation do not know what to do when payments are deliberately stopped.

As a follow up to our post on Child Maintenance Service, we hope the frequently asked questions below will help if you are in this situation.

What do I do if my ex won’t pay?

If the liability to pay child maintenance (or indeed spousal maintenance) is contained in a court order, the payee can take action to recover any arrears by applying to the court, which will choose the most appropriate method of enforcement. This will depend upon the financial situation of the payer and this will be examined by the court in order to determine which method of enforcement is most likely to achieve the desired result.

If the payment is through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), they have various powers to recoup arrears.

How long before action can be taken in this situation?

If payments are stopped, this is likely to be in breach of the court order. At this stage there will most likely be maintenance arrears and enforcement proceedings can begin.

If payment is made through the CMS, then they will contact the ‘paying’ parent to find out why the payment has stopped and to arrange for it to be paid. They will then be given one week to comply.

What are the next steps?

This depends on whether there is a court order or a CMS assessment. If the maintenance was decided as a result of a court order, then you will need to go back to court. If it has been evaluated by the CMS, you will need to contact the CMS.

How common are such non-payment situations?

Unfortunately, in our experience non-payment occurs frequently – particularly in times of recession and financial strain, but also out of malice. However, there may also be a genuine reason for non-payment such as the payer losing his/her job.

Do you have any advice on preventing situations like this from escalating?

Maintain a sensible dialogue with the payer if at all possible, so that any issues can be discussed and solutions sought as they arise. However, we appreciate that this is not always possible.

If I owe maintenance and am in financial trouble – what do I do?  

Avoid burying your head in the sand and take advice immediately. This may include applying to vary the amount due to be paid and wipe out any arrears that may have built up.

Has your ex stopped paying you maintenance? What steps did you take? If you have any other questions about child maintenance that you would like answering, we’d like to hear from you so please call us on 0113 246 0055, leave us a comment below or drop us an e-mail.

Comments

  1. Hi.
    My ex husband has quartered the amount he is supposed to pay in child maintenance originally agreed via a consent order. He says he hasn’t been working for ‘along time’.
    He resides most of the time in Thailand and comes back to the UK about 3 times a year to see our son and his parents. He is very incommunicative with me.
    I have tried to be patient with him but I strongly suspect he is lying and hiding money.
    It is making my financial situation very difficult as my son is now 15.
    I have told him I will have to log a breach with the court, but don’t know if the court will have any powers to enforce the order.
    Any advice?

    1. Dear Judith – thank you for contacting us re your case. While the court can enforce orders, the enforcement would be required in Thailand which would be expensive. In all probability the consent order would need to be registered in the equivalent Thailand court. Thereafter the enforcement process would be invoked.

      If your ex-husband worked for an English company then an attachment to his salary might be possible. The problem of enforcing abroad is that it is procedurally difficult and disproportionately expensive.

      Have you considered finding a lawyer in Thailand to seek advice as the courts there may take a serious view of defaulting in child maintenance?

  2. Hi really hoping you can help. My partner got divorced last year. He has bipolar disorder and unfortunately can no longer work. He is supposed to pay £150 a week to his ex wife but as he is now on benefits this is impossible. What can we do to get the consent order changed or get rid of it? Where do we stand in terms of not being able to pay?

    1. Thank you for your query. We advise you immediately contact your ex-wife and explain the situation seeking her agreement to suspend payments. If she is agreeable you may apply to the court for a variation by consent. In the event that there is no response or agreement, then your partner will need to apply to the court for a variation downwards of the order. Action should be taken as quickly as possible as there remains in place an order of the court. Please note we cannot be responsible for any problems which may arise unless we have the opportunity of a detailed discussion in regard to all the facts and the action which is required. We are making general observations only from the limited facts available. We advise that you seek a short appointment with a solicitor who is a member of Resolution. Alternatively, you can contact us for an appointment at Leeds on 0113 246 0055, Harrogate on 01423 276104, or York on 01904 202550. Visit http://www.jonesmyers.co.uk, email info@jonesmyers.co.uk

  3. Hi. I had a direct pay set up with cms from 2018, previous to that it was family based and payments stopped unannounced hence contacting cms… payments were made and the amount went up in the annual review but my ex continued to pay the amount he was paying before until i contacted cms. when the amount went up again because my ex was earning a considerable amount he requested for a MR as he said he couldn’t afford it and his wage had gone up because of overtime and a company car??
    The MR got rejected and he was told he had to pay what they calculated was right for him to pay, which he refused and has now told cms he has stopped working and payments have stopped completely. I have a mortgage and bills to pay with 3 children to feed. I work part time as I cant afford childcare and have no support around me. I dont know what to do?!

    1. Thank you for submitting your question. The CMS should seek proof of unemployment and the reason. Is it possible for you to make some enquiries to establish if your ex is still in employment? You can submit that information to the CMS who should enforce any arrears. Please note we cannot be responsible for any problems which may arise unless we have the opportunity of a detailed discussion in regard to all the facts and the action which is required. We are making general observations only from the limited facts available. It would be in your best interest to seek a short appointment with a solicitor who is a member of Resolution. Please feel free to call us at Leeds on 0113 246 0055, Harrogate on 01423 276104, or York on 01904 202550. You can also email info@jonesmyers.co.uk

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