Charlotte Tyrer – Solicitor in our Family and Private Client teams – demystifies the complex issues around child maintenance

Child maintenance can make a real difference to your children’s lives. It can help pay for everyday items like clothing, food and other essentials. Child maintenance can also help to ensure that both parents retain an active financial role in their children’s upbringing.

Parents are legally required to financially provide for their children even if they no longer live with them and it can help ensure that the children involved have the very best start in life.

Over half a million families choose to make an arrangement between themselves by agreeing the amount and type of child maintenance. This is known as a “family-based arrangement”.

A family-based arrangement is usually the quickest and easiest way to arrange child maintenance if an agreement can be reached. However, it is important to realise that a family-based arrangement is not legally binding. This means that once an agreement is in place, if a payment is not made, neither party has an automatic right to go to Court to request the other parent pay the amount that had previously been agreed. However, if a family-based arrangement breaks down, parents do have the option to use a Government scheme to create an enforceable agreement – the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) (which used to be known as the Child Support Agency).

Please find below a link to the Government’s online maintenance calculator which may assist families in reaching an agreement as it estimates the amount of child maintenance that should be paid by one parent to the other:

https://www.gov.uk/calculate-your-child-maintenance

Where a family-based agreement is not possible, parents can seek assistance from the statutory Child Maintenance Service. However, the statutory Child Maintenance Service will only become involved at the request of one of the parents and a fee is required in order for an assessment to be undertaken. This fee can be waived for victims of domestic abuse.

There are three types of statutory child maintenance schemes:

  • Child Maintenance Service cases- ‘2012 scheme’ cases
  • Child Support Agency (CSA) cases opened after March 2003- ‘2003 scheme’ cases
  • CSA cases opened before March 2003- ‘1993 scheme’ cases

Under the 2012 scheme, once an application has been lodged the CMS can then access information directly from the tax office to find out the non-resident parent’s gross income. Pension contributions are, however, deducted from this figure.

Broadly speaking, there are four rates payable under the 2012 scheme:

  1. There is a flat rate when the non-resident parent’s earnings are up to £100 per week. The child maintenance payments in these circumstances will be capped at £5 per week in total.
  2. There is a reduced rate when the non-resident parent’s earnings are between £100 and £200 per week. The child maintenance in these circumstances will be 19% of the earnings for one child and 27% for two children and 33% for 3 or more children.
  3. For non-resident parent’s earning between £200 and £800 per week, the child maintenance in these circumstances will be 12% of their earnings for one child and 16% for two children and 19% for three or more children.
  4. There is a basic rate plus payable if the non-resident parent earns more than £800 per week. In these circumstances the basic rate outlined above is applied for earnings up to £800. Then for any earnings between £800 and £3,000 per week the rates are 9% for one child, 12% for two children and 15% for three or more children.

Under the 2012 CMS scheme the non-resident parent’s weekly income is capped at £3,000. If the non-resident parent earns more than £3,000 per week it is possible to apply to the Court for top-up maintenance. What the resident parent earns if not relevant to the CMS calculation.

It is important to be aware that the CSA and CMS can only deal with applications for child maintenance where both parents are habitually resident in the UK although there are certain exceptions to this general rule, for example, where one of the parents is working abroad for the Government (e.g. a diplomat) or in the Armed Forces.

If the non-resident parent does live abroad the UK has arrangements with over 100 countries and overseas territories that enable someone from one jurisdiction to claim maintenance from someone in another. The Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Orders (REMO) is the process by which maintenance orders made by UK courts can be registered and enforced by courts or other authorities in other countries.

If you believe you should be paying or receiving child maintenance payments then we would advise you to contact the Child Maintenance Service on 0800 0835 130 or visit the Government website for more information – https://www.gov.uk/child-maintenance

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