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Child maintenance is a financial arrangement in which payment is made by one parent of a child to cover the costs of living of a child or children with whom they do not live. This might be a new situation following a divorce, dissolution or separation, or circumstances that have been in place since the birth of any children. The underpinning principle of child maintenance is that both parents have an obligation to pay for the costs of raising their children irrespective of the extent to which they are in their lives. Child maintenance arrangements should be put in place for any children below the age of sixteen, or up until they are 20 years of age if they are in full-time education.
The amount of child maintenance can be arranged directly between ex-partners, along with the frequency and method of payment: this is known as a family-based arrangement. This approach can work well when ex-partners feel in a position to explore options sensibly and openly and there remains a level of trust between them. Support can reflect the circumstances of the family and needs of the children; it might be that each parent agrees to cover different costs, reducing or excluding a direct payment from one parent to the other. The agreement can be amended over time in response to changes in circumstances and a more formal route can be pursued if disagreements or difficulties arise.
Family-based agreements are not inherently legally binding and as such there is no recourse to sanctions for non-adherence or enforcement of any agreed terms. It is, however, possible to include details of the agreed child maintenance in a consent order within divorce, dissolution, and separation proceedings. Often, separating parties include arrangements as to child maintenance alongside other financial arrangements when dealing with division of finances. If the agreed child maintenance is incorporated in a consent order, the court has jurisdiction for the first 12 months which means if one party stops the child maintenance payments or does not pay them in full or on time, the court can deal with the matter. After the first 12 months the CMS has jurisdiction. If child maintenance is not included in the consent order, the CMS retains jurisdiction.
The alternative course of action is using the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). The CMS identifies the parent who does not have day-to-day care of a child as the paying parent, and the parent who does as the receiving parent. The CMS can work out the correct amount that one parent should pay the other, using information about the paying parent’s annual gross income from HMRC, details of income from sources such as benefits, and costs such as pension payments or child maintenance paid to support another child, to arrive at a figure. It can also take into account other income, assets, and expenditure at the request of either the paying or receiving parent.
There are five bands for the weekly figure of child maintenance; the default amount at present is £38 per week for one child, £51 per week for two children, and £61 per week for three or more children. This figure can be increased or reduced depending on the gross weekly income of the paying parent. Paying parents with a gross weekly income of below £7 qualify for the nil rate, and those in full-time education, in prison, or sharing care of the child equally with the other parent do not have to pay anything. Child maintenance payments for a paying parent with a gross weekly income of between £100.01 and £3,000 will be calculated using a formula, and if the paying parent has a gross weekly income above £3,000 the receiving parent can apply to the court for additional child maintenance by way of a “top-up” order. To make such an application to the court, the CMS must first made a formal CMS assessment. The CMS will make a reduction in the amount to be paid in respect of shared care nights; that is when the child stays overnight with the paying parent.
For further information and advice on this issue, and other family law issues, please contact us for a free initial consultation on 01992 306 616 or 0207 956 2740 or email us.Back to Law Articles