The end of a relationship with your partner is never the end where children are involved; both parents are legally responsible for the financial cost of bringing up their children. Child maintenance is financial support between separated parents to help with the everyday costs of looking after their children. The parent who doesn’t have main day-to-day care of the child pays child maintenance to the parent who does. In some cases, child maintenance can be paid to a grandparent or guardian.
Child maintenance can be arranged in the following ways:
• a family-based arrangement
• a government scheme
• a court order
A family-based arrangement is a private way to sort out child maintenance and, if you can agree, is usually the quickest and easiest way. Parents will arrange everything themselves and no-one else has to be involved. To get an idea of the amount of child maintenance that the government would work out for parents, there are several very good online calculators available (e.g. www.gov.uk or www.cmoptions.org).
The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) is a government scheme for arranging child maintenance and replaced the Child Support Agency (CSA). The CMS is for when parents can’t agree to a family-based arrangement.
When a parent makes an application to the CMS, they will be told how much child maintenance should be paid. Some parents will then arrange the payments between themselves (Direct Pay). If parents cannot do this or they don’t pay what is agreed, then the CMS can collect and manage the payments between the parents (Collect & Pay Service).
According to the latest statistics from the Department of Work and Pensions, there were 655,000 children covered by Child Maintenance Service arrangements at the end of 2018, with 422,600 covered by Direct Pay arrangements and 232,400 covered by the Collect & Pay Service. The reason that the majority of parents choose to use Direct Pay rather than the Collect & Pay Service is that the CMS encourages parents to collaborate by charging them for using the Collect & Pay service, stating that an effective and cooperative relationship between parents is better for children.
Unlike a family-based arrangement, which is not usually legally binding, using the CMS for an enforceable agreement means that the CMS can take action to get the child maintenance owed. If the Collect & Pay Service is being used, this will happen automatically. However, if the parents are paying child maintenance between themselves (Direct Pay) then the receiving parent needs to ask the CMS to take action.
Although the CMS can collect unpaid child maintenance in a number of ways, by far the most common method is deducting money from the paying parents earnings through a deduction from earnings order/request. The CMS will contact the paying parents employer and tell them how much to take from that employee’s wages.
The employer must then pass on the money or they can be taken to court. The Department of Work and Pensions recently reported that at the end of September 2018, 43,900 deductions from earnings orders and requests were in place.
The CMS deals with all new applications for child maintenance. However, a court can deal with new applications for child maintenance in some situations, for example, if your ex-partner lives outside the UK or has a very high income. In these circumstances, you will need to seek expert advice.
At Neale Turk LLP our family law team has a wide range of experience in family law and relationship issues and can efficiently guide you through all areas of family difficulties, including complex maintenance issues. We are members of Resolution, an organisation of 6,500 family lawyers and other professionals in England and Wales, who subscribe to a Code of Practice which is geared towards encouraging a constructive and non-confrontational approach in all family matters.
Please feel free to contact us for a free initial appointment.