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What does child maintenance cover?

In order to understand what does child maintenance cover – we need to be clear on what is defined as child maintenance.

The government defines child maintenance as the “financial support towards your child’s everyday living costs when you’ve separated from the other parent.”

As both parents are responsible for financially supporting their child, if you break up with your child’s other parent and you are not the main day-to-day carer of your child, you may have to pay towards the cost of the other parent looking after your child. This is known as child maintenance.

Never far from the headlines, child maintenance is something that we, as solicitors specialising in family law, are asked a lot about.

 

Who is the Child Maintenance Service?

The Child Maintenance Service was brought about by the government to replace the Child Support Agency, which the government itself described as “failing to deliver for both parents and children”. Now, the Child Support Agency does not accept any new cases but does still handle some cases that were opened pre-November 2013.

The Child Maintenance Service is responsible for not only assessing how much a parent should be paying in child maintenance, but also enforcing any child maintenance payments if a parent doesn’t pay them.

 

What is child maintenance used for?

As per the government’s website, there are 6 ‘steps’ that the Child Maintenance Service normally follows to calculate the amount of child maintenance that should be paid every week by the ‘paying parent’ to the ‘receiving parent’ (the parent who has the main “day-to day care of the child”).

 

  1. Calculating income

The Child Maintenance Service requests the paying parent’s gross yearly income from HMRC.

 

  1. Does anything affect this income?

Anything that could “change the gross income amount”, such as pension payments, is looked at by the Child Maintenance Service. The gross income a parent receives every year is then converted into a weekly amount.

 

  1. The rate is then calculated

Depending on how much the gross weekly amount, calculated above, is, the rate of child maintenance is either a standard rate or worked out using a formula.

For more information about this, take a look at the table on the government’s website.

 

  1. Are there any more children?

The Child Maintenance Service also looks at whether the parent in question has to pay child maintenance for any other child/children.

 

  1. Amount to pay

The information gathered by the Child Maintenance Service in the previous four steps, will enable it to work out what the weekly amount of child maintenance should be.

 

  1. Does the child stay overnight with the paying parent?

If the child in question stays overnight with the parent who is due to pay the child maintenance, the Child Maintenance Service can make a deduction on the above amount to reflect this. This will be based on the average number of what are known as ‘shared care’ nights per week.

What does child maintenance cover?

 

Reviews of child maintenance amount

The amount of child maintenance due is reviewed on a yearly basis. If, as a paying parent, you have a change of circumstances, such as the amount you earn, it is important to inform the Child Maintenance Service.

 

High net worth individuals and child maintenance 

If the paying parent has a gross weekly income of more than £3,000, the other parent could go to court to request extra maintenance for the child.

If you would like more information about this, it is recommended that you seek advice from a solicitor experienced in this area of law, such as Austin Kemp.

 

Can I apply to the Child Maintenance Service if the other parent lives abroad?

If this applies to you, we highly recommend that you seek independent legal advice regarding child maintenance payments.

 

Does the Child Maintenance Service charge a fee?

At the time of writing, the Child Maintenance Service charged a £20 application fee. There are also various enforcement charges.

The Child Maintenance Service also charges fees for what it calls its “Collect and Pay” cases. This is where the Child Maintenance Service will collect the payments from one parent and then pass them on to the other parent.

 

Loopholes in the child maintenance system

In June 2017, Gingerbread, a national charity working with single parent families, released a report which it said showed that the child maintenance system was “failing to ensure children receive the appropriate level of support they are entitled to”. As a result of this, it called on the government to “set out a clear strategy for tackling child maintenance avoidance and evasion”.

According to the report, which followed the journey of five single parents and “their fight to get their ex-partner’s true financial resources taken into account for child maintenance”,  the Child Maintenance Service had various loopholes which meant that non-resident parents were paying only “a fraction of what they should”.

It went on to say that recent reforms had “prioritised administrative convenience”, which led to “desperate parents” being let down repeatedly “by a system that seems designed to be as unhelpful and opaque as possible”.

Basing calculations on gross taxable earnings or profits reported to HMRC

Gingerbread said that deciding to base child maintenance calculations on gross taxable earnings or profits that had been reported to the HMRC had “widespread repercussions”. It said that, due to this, “paying parents with often considerable assets can end paying a bare minimum, since several sources of income aren’t taken into consideration.”

The report also mentioned cases of self-employed parents who were “able to get away with under-reporting their income”, so that they could reduce their child maintenance payments.

Gingerbread said the Child Maintenance Service had been set up to “replace an ailing predecessor” (the Child Services Agency) but that for a “significant minority”, the new method of calculating child maintenance was “ still not working”.

 

Some “frequently complain about being stonewalled by the CMS”

Gingerbread described the way of calculating child maintenance as being only half of the problem.

It talked about parents, who thought that they were not receiving enough child maintenance, complaining that they were either “kept in the dark” about what their options were or “being stonewalled by the CMS”.

The report concluded that parents were often “passed back and forth” between the HMRC and the Child Maintenance Service, “with neither taking responsibility for re-evaluating the calculation”.

Dalia Ben-Galim, Gingerbread Director of Policy, said: “Up and down the country, loopholes in the child maintenance system are allowing parents to deny their children the essential support they need. Some are deliberately hiding their income, while others can perfectly lawfully escape with income or assets ignored; some are cash-in-hand labourers, while others are multi-millionaires.

“But in all these cases, single parents now have to collect evidence for a system that continually obstructs them. It’s not enough that they juggle being breadwinners and homemakers – they are now forced to become private detectives as well. Unless there is an urgent change, these injustices will continue indefinitely.”

 

Government announces “clampdown on child maintenance cheats”

At the end of October 2017, the government announced that new laws would be brought in early next year, which would “allow deductions to be made from joint accounts in order to recover child maintenance arrears”. This means that what the government describes as a “small minority” of parents are placing their money in a joint account in order to cheat their way out of paying child maintenance.

The government estimates that closing this loophole could lead to more than £390,000 additional child maintenance being collected.

According to an article earlier this year by the BBC, there is a backlog of over £3.8 billion in uncollected child maintenance payments.

Regarding the new powers to enable deductions from joint accounts, Caroline Dinenage, Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance said:

“Our priority is for children to get the support they need. Only a small minority of parents try to cheat their way out of paying towards their children and this new power will be another tool to tackle those who do.

“The government’s response to a public consultation on joint account deductions has been published today. This sets out how deduction orders against joint accounts will work and the safeguards that will be in place to protect the other holder of the joint account.”

The government says that one of the safeguards will be that both account holders “will be given the right to make their case before a deduction order is made.”

According to the BBC, Gingerbread’s Director of Policy Dalia Ben-Galim, said that the new law was a “welcome step forward” but that there were other loopholes that needed to be addressed.

What does child maintenance cover?

 

Worried you are not receiving enough child maintenance from your ex-partner?

If you are concerned that your ex-spouse’s maintenance payment amount does not reflect how much you feel that he or she really ought to be paying, there are some things that you can do.

 

Can we arrange child maintenance without involving the Child Maintenance Service?

If you and your ex-spouse can agree on the amount of child maintenance the ‘non-resident’ parent will pay, then there may be no need to involve the Child Maintenance Service.  This is known as a ‘family-based arrangement’.

This type of arrangement is not usually legally binding. If you would like to make a legally binding agreement with your ex-partner, you may be able to go to court to do this.

For advice about this and the implications of not having a legally binding agreement regarding child maintenance, you could seek help from a solicitor specialising in family law.

 

Ways to come to a family-based arrangement

Of course, it is sometimes possible to come to an arrangement with your ex-partner without involving anyone else.

If you would like to make a family-based arrangement but feel that you need a little external help to come to an agreement about the child maintenance arrangements, there are various options open to you.

Mediation, where an independent third part can help you and your spouse to discuss child maintenance arrangements, with the aim of you both coming to an agreement on issues such as amounts and when payments will be made, is one such option.

Collaborative law, where you and the other parent and your respective solicitors meet to discuss and negotiate your child maintenance arrangements, could also help you and your ex-partner to come to a family-based arrangement.

If you are unhappy with a ‘mandatory reconsideration’ decision (as discussed above), you could also consider mediation or collaborative law to help you come to an arrangement with the other parent, rather than going to a tribunal.

 

What is child maintenance?

What does child maintenance cover? How much child maintenance should I get? These are all questions our solicitors are asked a lot. In this article, we’ll talk you through everything from what is child maintenance to what does child maintenance cover, so you know what to expect.

Quite simply, as both parents are responsible for financially supporting their child, if you break up with your child’s other parent and you are not the main day-to-day carer of your child, you may have to pay towards the cost of the other parent looking after your child. This is known as child maintenance.

What is child maintenance can also be quite a complex question, as in some instances, if someone else is looking after the child, both parents could end up paying child maintenance. However, normally, when we’re looking at what is child maintenance, it’s an amount that one parent pays to the other parent.

 

What is child maintenance used for?

When we’re considering what does child maintenance cover, it’s useful to take another look at the ‘what is child maintenance’ section above. Child maintenance is usually the amount the parent who isn’t the day-to-day carer of the child pays to the main carer of the child towards the cost of looking after said child. Therefore, child maintenance is used to cover some of a child’s everyday living costs. This includes everything from clothing to food to shelter.

 

How much child maintenance should I get?

It is the Child Maintenance Service who is responsible for assessing how much a parent should be paying in child maintenance. Therefore, in order to answer the question of ‘how much child maintenance should I get’, you need to know how the Child Maintenance Service works out child maintenance. The ‘6 steps’ it normally uses to make this calculation can be viewed on the government’s website.

In short, ‘how much child maintenance should I get’ will largely depend on the paying parent’s yearly income. How many children the paying parent has to pay maintenance for, will also affect the outcome.

If the paying parent has the child staying with them overnight sometimes, the Child Maintenance Service will take this into account in its calculations.

 

High net worth individuals and child maintenance

If the paying parent has a gross weekly income of more than £3,000, the other parent could go to court to request extra maintenance for the child.

If you would like more information about this, it is recommended that you seek advice from a solicitor experienced in this area of law, such as Austin Kemp.

 

When does child maintenance end?

Child maintenance payments usually finish when a child turns 16, unless they are still in full-time education (up to A level or equivalent). In this instance, child maintenance ends when the child is 20 years old. Sometimes, child maintenance can end earlier. This can happen if, for example, a parent passes away or if the receiving parent stops being the child’s main carer.

 

How can our expert divorce solicitors help you child maintenance advice?

Our expert family law solicitors can help you with a range of legal issues relating to child maintenance, including:

 

Contact our expert divorce solicitors child maintenance advice

For more information call our divorce solicitors on 0845 862 5001 or email mail@austinkemp.co.uk.

Our expert family law solicitors offer a nationwide service. We have client meeting office facilities available, in order to have face-to-face client meetings / conferences as and when required in:

Leeds Office: Princes Exchange, Princes Square, Leeds, LS1 4BY

Wakefield Office: Market Walk, Wakefield, WF1 1QR

Halifax Office: Old Lane, Halifax, HX3 5WP

Huddersfield Office: Northumberland Street Huddersfield, HD1 1RL

Coventry Office: Warwick Road, Coventry, CV1 2DY

Canary Wharf Office: 25 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5LB

Please contact us for more details.

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06th November 2017

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