Child maintenance is the legal term for the money paid to one parent by the other as a contribution to cost of the upkeep of the children. It is generally paid to the parent who has the main day to day care 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.
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 was also subject to criticism and so the Government introduced a third formula and system, which started to apply in 2013.
The CSA was disbanded and replaced by a new body called the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).
Generally all disputes about child maintenance must be dealt with by the CMS but there are some areas where the courts still have authority to decide the amount of maintenance for children, including:
- For children aged between 19 and 25 who are in full-time education
- If one parent lives abroad
- Disputes over school fees
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. 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. Broadly speaking, there are four rates payable:
- Flat rate when NRP earnings are up to £100 per week. Their liability will be capped at £5 per week in total.
- Reduced rate when the NRP’s earnings are between £100 and £200 per week. They will pay 19% of gross earnings for one child and 27% for two children and 33% for 3 or more children.
- For those earning between £200 and £800 per week, the rate is 12% of gross earnings for one child and 16% for two children and 19% for three or more children.
- Basic rate plus – if the NRP earns more than £800 per week then the basic rate is applied for earnings up to £800. Then for any excess between £800 and £3,000 per week the rates are 9% for one child, 12% for two children and 15% for three or more children.
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 main day to day care 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 CMS will charge collection fees on the amount that they recover from the NRP but they will also charge the person receiving the maintenance costs, 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 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.