Sunday, 25 August 2013

Child Maintenance

Irrespective of Parental Responsibility, both parents are legally responsible for the financial costs of raising their children. Upon a relationship breakdown, arrangements for the children’s safety and well-being should be the first consideration.  Sometimes the danger is that parents can use their children to direct their feelings/emotions onto the other parent.

One of the first things a parent without residency of children should do is make financial provision for the children of the relationship (known as child support or child maintenance).
If possible, both parents should be able to agree on a private arrangement for this.  This agreement can include details of maintenance payment, which parent is responsible for what aspect of the child’s life, access arrangements etc.  Don’t just make a verbal agreement however make sure everything is documented and signed by both parties.

If you agree maintenance payments in this fashion, don’t pay your ex-partner in cash unless they are prepared to sign a receipt saying that they have been paid child maintenance money.  Make sure that you can provide an audit trail of your payments.  The reason for this is that your ex-partner may deny receiving these payment and if you can’t prove that you have made them, you will have to make them a second time.  Ideally, pay the child maintenance by Bank Transfer so that you can evidence that on a certain day every month you paid the agreed amount into an agreed account.

Importantly, if your ex-partner refuses to accept voluntary child maintenance payments, don’t accept this, At the end of the day, the payment isn’t to your ex-partner but for your child.  When your child is old enough to understand, your ex-partner could use this to poison your child against you…”they were never bothered about you….they never even gave any money for you..etc.”  If you find this happening, open up a separate Bank account and deposit the money in there that you would have given for Child Maintenance.  One day, your child will ask you why you didn’t contribute.  You will then be able to say that your ex-partner said they didn’t want payment, however you didn’t accept this and placed the money regularly in a bank account which you then hand to your child. 

Initially, me and my ex-wife went down this route whereby we agreed a set amount for maintenance, access, and shared parental duties.  However, when I changed jobs I suspected she thought she might be financially better off if she arranged maintenance payments through the Child Support Agency.  The downside about this approach is that a financial assessment is made and enforced within any condition being made for access/visiting rights.  The amount of times children  stay overnight can be taken into consideration  but it doesn’t entitled the parent paying child maintenance to automatic access of their children.

Currently, there are three statutory child maintenance scheme being used to work out maintenance payments.  They are run by either the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).
These are
  • The 1993 Scheme run by the CSA
  • The 2003 Scheme run by the CSA
  • The 2012 Scheme run by the CMA
At the moment only a few people are on the 2012 Scheme but it is intended to extend and gradually replace both the 1993 and 2003 Scheme.

For now, there is no charge for using the CMS to make a maintenance arrangement.  However, in the future, you’ll have to pay a fee when you apply unless:
  • you’re aged 18 or younger, or
  • a victim of domestic violence.
If the CMS arranges maintenance, they will make a calculation based on legal rules which take into account:
  • the income of the parent who should pay maintenance
  • the number of qualifying children. These are the children you are caring for
  • the number of relevant other children. These are other children that are also being supported financially.
The calculation doesn’t take into account the income of the parent with whom the children reside or how much you actually need to bring up the children. The amount that parent gets will be fixed. However, the CMS will review the calculation each year.
If the CMS works out maintenance payments, it should take about four weeks to set up the arrangement.

The parent who pays maintenance will usually have to make regular payments directly to the other parent, either monthly or weekly, usually into a bank account or by money transfer. This is called Direct Pay.

However, if Direct Pay is not suitable, the CMS can collect payments from the other parent and pass them onto you. This is called Collect and Pay. For now, this service is free, but eventually the parent paying maintenance will have to pay a fee for this. If you're getting maintenance by this method, you'll eventually end up with less money.

If you’re the parent who should pay maintenance arranged by the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), and you don’t pay, they can take action against you to make you pay. This is called enforcement action.

The Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) can try to recover arrears of maintenance in the following ways:
  • take money from  earnings. This is called a deductions from earnings order
  • take money from benefits. This does not apply to arrears under the 1993 Scheme
  • take money from a bank or building society account. This is called a deduction order
  • apply to court for a liability order. If a liability order is granted, they can refer the case to the bailiffs who could come and take property away to be sold to cover arrears and costs
  • apply to court for a charging order to force the selling of property and use the money to pay off child maintenance arrears.
If all other enforcement methods have failed, the CSA or CMS can apply to court for the non-paying parent to be disqualified from driving or sent to prison.

The CSA or CMS also have the power to apply to the High Court to prevent a person from getting rid of property or transferring property if they believe the reason that person is doing it is to avoid paying child maintenance.

If a parent disposed of property to avoid paying maintenance, the CSA or CMS can apply for an order to cancel the sale or transfer. This is called an order to set aside the disposition.
However, the court can't set aside a disposition if it was made:
  • for a reasonable payment, and
  • to a person who acted in good faith who was not aware of your intention to avoid child maintenance payments.

I hope that this outlines clearly rights and responsibilities as they relate to Child Maintenance in the UK.  The important advice for both parties is Keep a record of everything including any contact you may have with CSA/CMS.

How to contact CSA/CMS:

Child Support Agency Helpline
Telephone: 0845 713 3133 
Textphone: 0845 713 8924
Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm
Saturdays, 9am to 5pm
You’ll need your National Insurance number and date of birth when you contact the CSA/CMS

1 comment:

  1. Nice article on child support. The interest of the child should always come first after separation.