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Child maintenance payments are regular payments made by one parent to another for the everyday living costs of the child. Payments are based on the paying parent's level of income and level of contact with the child. Child maintenance can be arranged by agreement between the parents, via the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) or by Court Order.
The Covid-19 crisis has led to many families across the country losing all or a large amount of their income, which has in turn led to the parent making the payment to reduce or stop child maintenance payments to the payee parent. A large majority of single parents rely on child maintenance payments to pay their bills, mortgage/rent, clothe and feed their children, so having the payments stopped or reduced is having a very significant impact on their lives. However, as the paying parent cannot afford to pay the maintenance anymore, they have no choice to stop or reduce it.
The charity Gingerbread has recently criticised the Government for its lack of support for such separated parents and wants the Government to make up the shortfall in the child maintenance payments as this shortfall cannot be claimed anywhere elsewhere at present.
The DWP has reported an unprecedented rise in numbers of people claiming Universal Credit which had led to CMS staff being deployed to assist them, so investigations are not being made in respect of reductions in or cessation of child maintenance payments leaving parents in a vulnerable position.
If the paying parent is refusing to pay child maintenance but is still receiving their full salary, they must continue to make the regular payments in full. If the paying parent refuses to do this, an application can be made to the CMS. The CMS has various ways of enforcing child maintenance payments and, whilst the system may not be totally efficient now, it is the only system we have so must be used.
If the child maintenance payments have been agreed between the parties, any variation of those payments can be discussed and hopefully agreed directly between the parents. But, if this is not possible, an application should be made to the CMS.
If child maintenance payments have been ordered by a court order, and a variation of the payments cannot be agreed directly between the parents, either party can make an application to the court to ask a Judge to review and possibly vary the amount. In most cases child maintenance orders can only be dealt with by the court in the first 12 months of the court order, after which either parent can make an application to the CMS for reassessment but this will depend on the wording of your court order.
It is important for parents to communicate with one another to agree any variation to child maintenance payments but, if matters cannot be agreed, in addition to the options set out above, the parties can arrange to attend mediation. Mediators are independent and can assist parties in reaching an agreement and most mediators can offer remote sessions too.
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