Child Maintenance – a guide for separated parents
Lindsay Davies from our Family team sets out the current child maintenance regime in plain English as a helpful guide for parents who have separated or are in the process of separating.
The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) now deals with all new applications for child support. The CMS is a separate and different body from the Child Support Agency (CSA). The CSA still deals with some historic cases but is no longer accepting new applications and their current cases are gradually being moved over to be dealt with by the CMS. The CMS has been charging separated parents for using their services since 11 August 2014.
Am I entitled to child maintenance?
Every parent has a duty to maintain his or her child. When parents, whether married or not, live apart, the person who receives child benefit for the child or children, is entitled to receive child maintenance from the other parent (“the paying parent”). If necessary, either parent can make an application to the CMS for a maintenance calculation and ask them to collect payments from the paying parent.
The CMS is designed to be parents’ last resort; when they are completely unable to sort things out between themselves. If you and your former partner are able to reach an agreement between you as to how much should be paid and when the payments should be made, then there is no need for you to involve the CMS.
You are entitled to pay/receive maintenance for a child who is under the age of 20 and in full time education (not including university).
How much should I pay/receive?
How much is to be paid is calculated on the basis of the paying parent’s gross income, less their pension contributions. The CMS get their information direct from HMRC. If you are trying to sort out the arrangements for child maintenance direct, then you should ask to see evidence of the paying parent’s income e.g. payslips, P60, tax return etc.
Different rates apply depending on the number of children maintenance is payable for. It may be necessary to reduce the maintenance calculation if the child stays overnight with the paying parent for more than 52 nights a year. The calculation may also be reduced if the paying parent has other children living with them. The exact rules are beyond the scope of this article but the CMS has a very useful calculator which takes parents through each step and produces a calculation at the end that parents can use to agree maintenance payments between themselves. Simply follow the link below to get to the calculator.
What if we can’t agree?
You can use family mediation or solicitors to try and reach an agreement. However, if neither of these options is suitable, or fail, then you can use the CMS. There is a fee of £20 for making an application to the CMS for a calculation. If the CMS makes a calculation then either parent can elect for the payments to be made direct to the other parent. If payments are to be made direct then it is essential that payments are made direct into the other parent’s bank account so that a clear record of the payments is available, or that the payments are otherwise properly and clearly recorded.
If you do not believe that such an arrangement will work, or at a later stage payments are late or stop, then you can ask the CMS to collect payments for you. However, if you use this service then the CMS will deduct 4% of the maintenance payments before paying the remainder to the receiving parent. The paying parent will be charged 20% of the maintenance payments which they will have to pay on top of their regular payments. For example if £100 a month is due, then the paying parent will pay £120 per month and the receiving parent will get £96 per month
What do I do if I think the calculation is wrong?
You should contact the CMS and/or take legal advice as it may be possible for you to apply for a variation on certain limited grounds, report a change of circumstances that will affect the calculation or appeal the decision.
What if I get into arrears?
You will need to pay the arrears and you should be aware that the CMS has the power to enforce maintenance payments. The CMS charges for enforcing maintenance and ultimately you could end up disqualified from driving or in prison if you fail to pay.
The CMS (and the CSA if your case remains with them) now has the power to accept part payment in satisfaction of the total arrears and to write off arrears, so it is definitely worth contacting the CMS if you get into difficulty to try and sort things out.
If you require any advice or assistance in relation to child maintenance issues or other matters relating to your separation and/or divorce then you should contact the Family Team at Field Seymour Parkes LLP on 0118 951 6200.
Lindsay Davies is an Assistant Solicitor in our Family Team who is experienced in advising clients in relation to child support issues and other matters arising out of married and unmarried couples’ separation. Lindsay has particular experience of advising and assisting clients in relation to child support appeals, variations, change of circumstances applications, enforcement action, where there are significant arrears and complaints against the CSA/CMS.