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The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on child support and maintenance decrees

By Avgoustinos Tsarkatzis

The pandemic, resulting from the synthesis of the words pan (all) and demos (population), is an illness that is spreading rapidly in a region or on a global scale and threatens almost the entire population. The coronavirus pandemic is undoubtedly the most important event of our time, a fact that within a few months has significantly affected the economic, social and political reality around the world. The coronavirus crisis has severely shaken the European and global economy due to the measures and restrictions imposed by each state in order to prevent its spread and limit its impact on public health.

The coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent measures imposed on many businesses to prevent its spread have inevitably affected a significant part of Cypriot society, including parents who are obliged by virtue of a Maintenance Order, to pay their monthly contribution to the maintenance of their minor children.

This article discusses whether the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic constitutes a reason for changing the terms of child support and, by extension, whether they justify the revision of such decrees issued before the pandemic.

Each parent, according to the relevant legislation, has an obligation according to his/her financial means to support his/her children. Support payments are determined on the basis of the needs of each child and the financial means of each parent. But what happens if the income of a parent, who is obliged to pay a specific monthly support, under a relevant Order, has been negatively affected, even temporarily, due to the pandemic?

Cypriot law provides that under certain conditions, an existing Maintenance Order may be amended. The amendment of an existing maintenance order is provided for by article 38(1) of Law 216/90. Article 38 provides that if conditions, since the decision determining support was issued, have changed, the Court may amend such decision or even order its termination.

Case-law state that only facts which arise after the adoption of the original decree may be taken into account for the purpose of reviewing the existing decree. It is the change in conditions that make the original decision subject to change. This means that anyone who has an obligation to pay support can apply for an amendment either upwards or downwards, or even seek a complete termination of such support.

In a very recent decision of the Nicosia Family Court, in the context of which our office represented the Applicant-person liable for the support of his children, the Court was called upon to examine whether the pandemic and by extension the restrictions placed upon life in order to control it and the consequent financial impact on businesses affected by the restrictive restrictions are facts that can be taken into account by the Court for the revision of an existing Support Order. In summary, the Court was called upon to examine whether the pandemic and the measures taken by the government to prevent its spread, as events that occurred after the issuance of a Maintenance Order, negatively affected the income of the Applicant-debtor, in a way that would justify a reduction in the amount of support, as provided for in the original Maintenance Order.

The Court, deciding in favor of the request of the Applicant-debtor for maintenance, stated that “the coronavirus crisis is not only a feature of Cypriot society, but has hit and had a catalytic effect on the entire global economy and the local communities of each state. The results of this crisis are reflected not only in the economic sector of these societies and in particular in the influence of incomes, workers and the labor market in general, but it has also touched social structures and even the psychology of every citizen. The word “pandemic” fully reflects the breadth and extent of its consequences around the world.” The Court went a step further and referring to specific professions that have been affected by the pandemic stated that: “It is well known that in Cyprus, due to the pandemic, which has affected our country, several professions have been adversely affected. Such professions are for example HORECA but also sports and training areas, such as gyms.”

Concluding the Court reduced the amount of support, which the Applicant was obliged to pay under the original Decree.  It recognized that some professions due to either the complete suspension of their operation and/or extreme restrictions placed upon such operations by specific protocols issued by the Ministry of Health, have suffered financial consequences. The Court of Justice in its judgment recognized that, inevitably, even the various restrictions on the way in which a business operates, manifestly affect the income reality and capability of the enterprise in question since its operation falls significantly short of full and normal operation and consequently the personal income of persons who maintain such enterprises and who have the obligation to pay maintenance are affected, an obligation that has been defined and based on the incomes they had before the pandemic.

The Court decided that it is fair and reasonable, until the restrictions and instructions of the Ministry of Health concerning the operation of the Applicant-liable for maintenance are lifted, the amount of the Applicant’s contribution to the maintenance of his children is reduced, thus recognizing that the crisis of the pandemic, even temporarily, justifies the revision of Maintenance Orders.