Child maintenance is the money that is paid by the parent who does not have children residing with them to the parent who does for the upkeep of the children. While many parents can come to an agreement between themselves on the right level of maintenance, others need help to agree on child maintenance and sometimes to deal with payment enforcement.
The following are some of our most frequently asked questions when it comes to child maintenance.
Originally child maintenance was dealt with by the courts but in 1993 a statutory body called the Child Support Agency (CSA) was formed to take over responsibility for it. The CSA was given a formula to calculate the maintenance. There was a lot of criticism of the CSA and of the formula, which was inflexible. This resulted in a new system and a new formula, which came into force in March 2003. This second system is also subject to criticism and so the Government have introduced a third formula and system, which started to apply in 2013.
The CSA has now been disbanded and replaced by a new body called the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).
The situation is quite confusing at the moment as there will be children who will still be assessed on the first and second formula systems with all new cases coming under the third system. The intention is to transfer everybody onto the third system at some point but this has been promised in the past and not happened. Watch this space.
There are some areas where the courts still have authority to decide the amount of maintenance for children, including:
For most situations though, you have to go to the CMS.
The Government encourages parents to come to their own agreement as to the level of maintenance that should be paid. There is a lot of useful information on its website on arranging child maintenance yourself and there is an online maintenance calculator to help you come to an agreement. Be careful to make sure you use the right calculator for the system you are on. All new cases use the new one. You can also find information on the Child Maintenance Options website
If you cannot come to an agreement, the CMS will decide the rate of maintenance. See the answer to ‘What if we cannot agree about the amount of maintenance to pay?’ below.
If you and your ex-partner cannot come to an agreement on child maintenance, then an application has to be made to the CMS. You have to pay a fee for assessment, although this is waived for victims of domestic abuse.
The CMS then access information direct from the tax office to find out the non-resident parent’s (NRP’s) gross income. Under the old system they used net income but under the new system they use the gross income. Pension contributions are, however, still deducted from this figure. Broadly speaking, there are four rates payable:
Weekly income is capped at £3,000. For earners above that sum, it is possible to apply to the court for a top-up for maintenance. It is irrelevant what the parent with residence earns.
It should be noted that adjustments are made if the children stay with the NRP overnight during the week on a regular basis. Adjustments are also made if the NRP has other dependent children living with them in that they can deduct certain percentages depending on the number of children.
If the non-resident parent (NRP) is not making payments then you can contact the CMS and ask them to take enforcement action. The Government hopes this is not used frequently and try and encourages people to pay the maintenance that has been assessed by the CMS. The CMS will charge collection fees on the amount that they will recover from the NRP but they will also charge the person receiving the maintenance costs as well so both parents are likely to lose out because of these fees.
The CMS have powers to arrest wages from source and various other powers. They also have powers for imprisonment and also to disqualify the person from driving, although these are for the more extreme cases of non-payment.
It is in the best interests of all involved to get maintenance issues resolved early in the separation process. Thorntons Family Law team can advise you on your child maintenance concerns and the steps required to agree matters between you and your ex-partner. We can also assist you with negotiations through alternative dispute resolution to avoid costly court action, and in preparing a written agreement if required.
At Thorntons Family Law, we offer an initial free no-obligation chat over the phone to outline your options and the possible costs.
Depending on your case and circumstances, the next step is to come into one of our local offices to meet a Family Law Solicitor about your case and the way forward.
Call us on 03330 430 150 for a chat or contact us to book an appointment.
We are always clear to clients about the potential costs of any option and offer a range of payment options. We charge based on the time we spend on your case, including meetings, emails, phone calls and court representations. Depending on your case and circumstances, you may also need to cover outlays, such as court costs or payments to independent experts. We will set out our fees and likely extra costs for you at the start and keep you informed of any possible changes as your case progresses.
Please note we do not offer Legal Aid for this service.
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