Child maintenance (also known as child support) is an ongoing payment to help financially support your child after a separation or divorce. Regular payments are made from one parent to the other parent who will, in most cases, be the child’s primary caregiver. Both parents are responsible for the cost of raising any children, whether they see them or not.
This post will act as a full child maintenance guide for those giving or receiving the payment.
What is included in child maintenance?
Child Maintenance should usually cover the cost of everyday living such as food, clothes, and housing. Technically, expenses such as school costs and activities do not come under the child maintenance costs. However, parents should make their own arrangements regarding these extra costs.
Arranging child maintenance
If a child or children are involved in a separation, correctly organising the child maintenance agreement should be a priority. It is both parents’ legal responsibility to financially support their children. When it comes to making a child support agreement, there are a few ways to tackle this.
One way is creating a family-based arrangement. A family-based arrangement involves both parents coming to a financial agreement without the assistance of a child maintenance service.
If a family-based arrangement is decided, you will need to agree on:
- The amount of maintenance that will be paid
- When payments should be made
- How payments should be made
- A date to review the arrangement
There are many advantages and disadvantages to a family-based arrangement.
A family-based arrangement is completely free- meaning no extra costs for legal fees
If an arrangement can be made outside of legal help, it demonstrates trust between you and your ex therefore helping keep your relationship intact after separation. Having that trust usually creates a level of respect between both parties and their own promises.
Making the arrangements independently can ensure more adaptability to the agreement/ This is because none of the arrangements are officially legally binding.
However, a family-based arrangement comes with its disadvantages too.
Making a family-based arrangement will require a good relationship between the two individuals in order to come to any amicable decisions.
This type of arrangement is not legally binding, meaning that if your arrangement were to fail, any overdue or missing payments cannot be enforced or collected.
Child maintenance services
Although a family-based agreement can work for some couples, it is more common to make these agreements through a child maintenance service (CMS). Using a child maintenance service has many benefits that you wouldn’t have with a family-based arrangement.
One of the main benefits is communication. If you have a strained relationship with your ex-partner, it may be in your best interest to use child maintenance services over a family-based arrangement.
Using this service will mean you will not have to communicate with the other parent as the child maintenance services will act as a middleman, giving a clear point of call if you do not want contact with your ex.
An additional benefit to using the child maintenance services is the advantage of reinforcement. A child maintenance service being the main point of contact for the matter, means if you are unsure of your ex-partners whereabouts or they are refusing responsibility of any child maintenance then the child maintenance service can try and trace them, assess any payments, collect payments, and also enforce if there are any late or missed payments.
Similarly, if a parent refuses to share any details needed for completing a child maintenance arrangement, the services have the authority to retrieve this information from other government bodies, or an employer. On the other hand, if you create a family-based agreement without including any legal services, you are unable to access any information which isn’t provided by your ex-partner.
Another thing to consider is the lack of liability that comes with a family-based agreement. As this arrangement is not legally binding, the other partner can go back on any arrangements in the future. This means settlements that were made under the original agreement can be altered without the option of a CMS ensuring all agreements are followed and enforced.
Additionally, using a CMS will give a set payment amount and a schedule for completing these payments, whilst also providing legal advice on their payment information.
How are child maintenance payments worked out?
When setting up your child maintenance, there are a few factors to consider which may impact the payments and how they are worked out. When working out the child maintenance payments there is usually :
The first step to figuring out a child maintenance payment is to find out the paying parent’s yearly income and consider whether they are on benefits. This will give an initial idea of how much the payments should be.
Additionally, check for certain things which could affect this gross income. For example, any other children the paying parent is supporting, or any pension payments being made.
- Child maintenance rates
When working out the amount of child maintenance required, one of five rates will be applied depending on the paying parent’s weekly income. For information on specific rates, look on the government website.
Next, the number of children that the paying parent will be paying for is taken into consideration. This includes any children living with them and any other arrangements that have been made for other children.
- Weekly amount
Once all information of the above is gathered, a weekly child maintenance amount will be decided based on all of the considerable factors.
- Shared care
Finally, if applicable, a deduction to the weekly payment agreed may happen depending on the amount of ‘shared care’ nights a week. Shared care is when the paying parent’s child stays overnight with them.
Once the above 5 steps have been completed, a total weekly amount of child maintenance will be given.
This payment will be the set child maintenance the parent is required to pay until the date of an annual review. However, the amount of child maintenance could change if either parent brings forth a change in circumstance.
It is important to consider that, once you or your ex-partner have applied for a variation, the process can take up to 3 months before your child maintenance payment changes.
When does child maintenance end?
Child maintenance payments should be made up until the child is 16. This is unless they are in full time education, which the payments will then stop when the child turns 20. There are many common assumptions regarding when a child maintenance payment will stop.
Some of these include:
- If the receiving parent gets remarried or is in a new financially supporting relationship.
- If the receiving parent is earning more than the paying parent.
- If the receiving parent refuses contact between the child and the other parent.
- If there is a third-party helping with any financial support such as a grandparent.
All of these assumptions are untrue, and it is still the legal requirement for both parents to be financially supporting their child even if the above statements apply.
There are only a few reasons for a child maintenance payment to stop. Those being:
- As mentioned, the main reason a child maintenance payment will stop is the age of the child. Payments stop automatically when the child turns 16 or 20 if still in approved full-time education or training.
- If the child or the paying parent relocate from the UK
- Adoption of the child
- If both parents equally care for the child
- The death of either parent
Although it is the law for child maintenance to cease after finishing full time education, the order could be appealed if the paying parent is unwilling to proceed with any financial support through a voluntary agreement. This can financially help a child in any kind of higher education – e.g., university.
However, if you wish to appeal this order, the application will have to be completed before the child turns 18, in order to make this agreement legally enforceable.
What happens if Child maintenance isn’t paid?
If the paying parent misses or refuses to make any child maintenance payments, the first step in retrieving this money is for the child maintenance services to contact the parent. This is to find out why the payment wasn’t made and try and resolve this as quickly as possible.
A child maintenance service will be happy to discuss if there are any changes to your circumstances and will try to come up with a payment schedule that suits everyone.
However, if the payment isn’t made in full and on time, the child maintenance services can begin taking collection action. This can be done in 2 ways:
- Taking money directly from your earnings or
- Taking money directly from your bank, which may further charge you each time the CMS retrieves a payment.
If multiple payments are missed or the child maintenance services deem this as a better course of action, enforcement powers will be used through courts to get the child maintenance money that is owed.
This can work out to be very costly, as the parent missing payments may have to pay any court fees that the CMS need paid in order to retrieve the owed money.
It is important to note that enforcement actions can also negatively affect your credit rating.
Enforcement fees range from £50 (if money is taken directly from your earnings) to £300 (if a liability order is required).
The first step of a court order is applying for a ‘liability order.’ This essentially means that, if it’s proven there is a built-up amount of unpaid child maintenance debt, the child maintenance service has the power to take further legal action.
If a liability order is given, actions such as these will be granted:
- Legal services having access to seize any belongings that total to the outstanding payments
- A charge being places on any property or assets owned so that no resale can be made until the debt owed is paid off
- Similarly, forcing a sale of any valuable assets or properties and using this money to pay for the child maintenance debt
- Sending the paying parent to prison.
Other than missed payments, there are a few other times a child maintenance service can take legal action. These being:
- Avoidance with providing information needs
- Providing untrue information
- If there is no communication of any circumstances changed
- If it is suspected that any valuable assets are being disposed of to prevent the collection of any outstanding child maintenance payments.
Changes that you should communicate
It is normal for circumstances to change after the initial child maintenance agreement; therefore, it is vital to keep the child maintenance services up to date on any circumstance changes in order to ensure your child maintenance payments are still correct.
The law states that, if any of the following applies, the CMS must be informed:
- A change in address
- A change in job- whether that be a whole new company or receiving a promotion for a new role, you must provide child maintenance services with the following
- The income of your new role
- If applicable, the name and address of your new employer
- The work you will be doing
- A payroll number (if any)
If you’re found to be breaking any of the above laws, the child maintenance services can follow through with court proceedings which can result in fines of up to £1,000.
Need legal help?
Going through a separation is hard enough without the added difficulty of creating a child maintenance plan. Here at Harbour family law our highly trained solicitors are here to help!
Contact us today for any legal help, we are here to listen to all cases with empathy and professionalism and offer the best advice possible.