The importance of child maintenance is to ensure that the everyday living costs relating to the child are taken care of. This can include a number of things including clothing and food while also helping to ensure that a roof is placed over the heads of the child or children.
It is important to remember that child maintenance is not the only opportunity a parent has to make a contribution but it is a crucial one.
This form of maintenance is traditionally the money paid by the parent who does not have the day to day parental responsibility to the parent who has parental responsibility.
A parent who does have the day-to-day care of the child is called the resident parent.
However, it may be that sharing the responsibility and buying things directly can be agreed and arranged by both sets of parents. It is possible to come to some form of family-focused child maintenance arrangement if all parties are in agreement.
Legal Advice for Child Maintenance
While many people think that child maintenance has to be paid through the CSA (or the Child Maintenance Service which is now dealing with new applications), this is not necessarily the case.
A number of parents are able to arrange for their child maintenance themselves. There does not need to be a CSA arrangement only a court order. Parents can agree things between themselves. We would recommend any parent wishing to so
seek legal advice first.
This can be undertaken privately or it can be undertaken through a Direct Pay agreement. It is important to note that the Child Support Agency took their last new application in November of 2013 and new matters are being dealt with by the Child Maintenance Service although it remains to be seen how it will differ. There is a statutory service for parents who are unable to come to an agreement about child maintenance but their assistance has to be requested.
Resident Parent and Child Maintenance
It is also important to realise that child maintenance is not a tool to punish a parent with.
A resident parent cannot stop a non-resident parent having contact (access) with a child whether child maintenance is paid or not. It is important to be aware of the costs of raising a child and providing adequate support is essential regardless of the living or family arrangement of the parents.
It is also important to point out that child maintenance is not some form of benefit that a separated parent can claim from the Government. The payment is made by the other parent and the only state involvement will come if a family style agreement cannot be arranged, they will then make it their duty to collect the payments and pass them on to the parent with the child or children.
Child maintenance is crucial and it can make a massive difference in the life of a child as it helps to pay for the essential things in life. It can also be an excellent way to ensure that both parents have an active role and say in the life of their child.
Chart Depicting CSA Caseload Sept 2014
Child Support Enforcement
If a parent is not paying child maintenance, the first task will usually be to make an application to the CSA/CMS. it is important to note that child maintenance can only be backdated to the date of the application to CMS/CSA so it is important that a resident parent does not delay. It is also possible to apply to court to obtain a liability order for non-payment although usually unless it is being done as part of the overall divorce picture, it will simply be referred back to one of the government agencies.
Once there is either an agency determination or court order, this will create a legal recognition of the debt and this will provide authority to head to court for the non-payment of child maintenance. Steps that can be taken include passing the case to bailiffs to obtain the money owed, bailiffs seizing belongings and selling them to obtain the money, freezing money of the parent that is paying or freezing a bank account of the person that owes the money.
In fact, the agencies have the power to revoke a nonpaying parents driving licence although the remedy is rarely used.
Father Not Paying Child Maintenance
While it is possible for either the mother or father to look after the kids, there is a traditional view that the children will be with the mother and the father will be the separated parent who has a responsibility to make payments for child maintenance. This is why it is commonly seen as a father not paying child support. This is not to suggest that fathers have no interest in looking after their child, this isn’t even the case when it comes to the fathers who are not paying child support.
It is important to remember that for every father not paying support, there are countless fathers that are taking responsibility and paying the correct amount for the upkeep and support of their child or children.
The courts however are now taking a more practical and pragmatic view and they will look at who has been the main carer of the child until the time of the breakup.
How much is Child Maintenance?
The CSA/CMS changed the way they calculate liability for child maintenance about 18 months/2 years ago and made it a lot more complicated.
It used to be based upon take-home pay but now it is based upon gross pay. Full details are below but if you want a rough estimate, it is 15% for one child, 20% for two children, and 25% for three children or more of take-home pay. However it is now based on gross pay and not net pay.
CSA/CMS rates of child maintenance for a non resident parent earning £200-£800 per week gross are 12% for one child, 16% for 2 and 19% for 3 or more children living 100% with the resident parent.
For gross incomes incomes over £800 per week up to £3000 per week, then everything over £800 per month he pays 9% for one, 12% for two and 15% for three children or more.
That is reduced by 1/7 for each 52 nights the child stays with the non-resident parent. There is also a reduction in the non-resident parent is responsible for other children. The rates increase for higher earners and decrease for low earners.
CSA child maintenance is payable till the children reach 20 years old or leave full-time non-advanced education. Non-advanced education is generally classed as a level, not University, but there are some further education courses which are not classed as advanced. Full-time courses can be as little as 12 hours per week.
Advanced education courses include: a degree, Diploma of Higher Education (DHE), NVQ level 4 or above, BTEC Higher National Certificate (HNC) or Higher National Diploma (HND), teacher training
‘Non-advanced’ education includes the following: GCSEs, A levels
NVQ/SVQ level 1, 2 or 3, BTEC National Diploma, National Certificate and 1st Diploma, SCE higher grade or similar
The CSA booklet is here
Which contains lots more information.
A non-resident parent paying child maintenance either via one of the agencies or directly to the mother whether as a result of the court order or not, should be very wary of paying cash as it is not unknown for the resident parent to deny ever having received any money and to chase the non-resident payment for arrears.
A paying parent should also be aware that if any other payments are made contributions such as payment for school trips or for school uniforms etc. these are classed as voluntary contributions and not maintenance payments. It is possible therefore, for a non-resident parent to make substantial contributions to a child’s welfare and for none of that to be classed as maintenance and for the resident parent to still chase them for arrears.
About the author:
This article was written by a member of the Expert Answers legal advice team. Expert Answers provides online legal advice on all aspects of UK Law to users in the United Kingdom.