Child Maintenance Payments and the Child Maintenance Service
One possible area of conflict that can arise when parents separate or divorce is the payment of financial support, or child maintenance, for any children from the relationship.
Paying and Receiving Parents
Child maintenance is designed to provide regular, reliable financial support that helps towards a child’s everyday living costs.
In most cases, the parent who does not have the main day-to-day care of the child (the paying parent) pays child maintenance to the parent who does have the main day-to-day care (the receiving parent).
The Government believes that it is better for all concerned if parents can come to an agreement on child maintenance themselves. It refers to this as a family-based arrangement, and encourages parents to set these up with the support of its Child Maintenance Options Service
Child Maintenance Service Calculations
However, where it is not possible for parents to set up a family-based arrangement either parent can apply to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), which is the replacement service for the Child Support Agency.
The CMS will then determine the amount of maintenance to be paid, based on the weekly gross income of the paying parent.
This calculation will take into account factors that might affect gross income, such as whether the paying parent receives any benefits, or whether he or she is paying support for any other children. However, the CMS doesn’t take into account any particular expenses relating to the child that the receiving parent is looking for a contribution towards.
Therefore, if the receiving parent is looking for additional support to cover costs such as school fees, they will need to obtain a court order.
In addition, the CMS calculations only apply to a maximum gross weekly income of £3,000. Where the paying parent earns more than this limit, the receiving parent can apply to court for extra child maintenance.
The CMS has a range of enforcement powers it can use if the paying parent fails to pay the required amount of maintenance. It can deduct unpaid maintenance directly from the paying parent’s earnings or benefits, or it can made deductions directly from a bank or building society account. In addition, the paying parent can be taken to court for non-payment.
CMS Criticised over Enforcement Following Non-Payment
The CMS has recently been criticised for its apparent reluctance to use the enforcement options available to collect unpaid child maintenance.
A report by the Work and Pensions Committee has described the CMS’s approach to enforcement as ‘tentative’ and says that it must be ‘toothier’ moving forward as it takes over existing non-payment cases from the Child Support Agency. Failing to take enforcement action allows paying parents to get away with not making appropriate contributions to their children’s upbringing, says the report, and also signals to other non-resident parents that they could do the same.
According to the Committee, there should be a presumption in favour of enforcement action when a payment has been missed, and action should be taken unless there is evidence of a valid reason or a credible payment plan is in place. It has called on the Department for Work and Pensions to clearly set out its criteria for prioritising arrears collection and how it intends to approach and resource tackling each category of arrears.
For expert legal advice on child maintenance, including applying for a court order, then contact our specialist family lawyers today.