Child maintenance is the payment of a regular, consistent amount, usually monthly, which provides for, or contribute towards, a child's everyday living costs. It is paid by the parent who does not have day to day care of the child/children to the person who looks after the child/children on a day-to-day basis. The person looking after the children can be a grandparent or guardian. In the West Country alone there are many millions of pounds owing in Child Maintenance Arrears.
There are basically three ways in which child maintenance can be arranged, although it is clear from the fact that the Government have introduced a series of charges under the new regime that they want people to reach agreement (A Family-Based Arrangement):
- through one of the 3 government schemes (CSA, CMS and CMOS)
- by private agreement (family-based arrangement)
- by Court Order (but only to reflect an agreement, or the payer receives a net annual salary of over £104,000, or when the child or parent is outside of the UK)
There are 3 Government schemes, namely the 1993 scheme, the 2003 scheme, and the 2012 scheme (currently being rolled out). The schemes are confusing, and there is a lot of incorrect information on the internet. The best site that we have come across re Child Maintenance is the Citizens Advice Bureau website, in that it appears to be more up to date than most sites (even the Government's own site !).
The Child Support Agency still runs the 1993 and 2003 schemes, the Child Maintenance Options Service (CMOS) runs the 2012 scheme.
The 2003 scheme worked on a simple formula, with the non resident parent with a net weekly income of £200 or more (up to £2000) paying 15% for one child, 20% for two, and 25% for 3 or more children. The weekly amount is then reduced dependent upon the level of overnight contact taking place.
Whilst currently being rolled out, if you have 2 or more children and make an application to CMOS after July 2013 then you will be assessed under the new 2012 scheme. This scheme (known as the gross scheme) deducts pension contributions, but not NI or tax.
The calculation involves a 6 step process, and which will result in a weekly sum being assessed.
The CSA (2003 and 1993 schemes) use a calculation based on net income (gross less tax, NI contributions, and any pension contributions).
The CSA does not have jurisdiction in those cases where the payer receives a net weekly income of over £2000, whereas under the 2012 scheme that figure increases to £3000.
There are charges payable for making applications under the new scheme, but at the time of writing this article they have yet to be set by the Government.
You can use the online child maintenance calculator to see how much child maintenance might be payable
If the parent paying child support has other children by another partner, and has to make CSA payments to that person also, this is taken into account in the calculation.
The Child support agency will not be able to assist, however, where any of the following applies:-
- there is a Court Order made prior to 3 March 2003 which remains in force and states that the non-resident parent must pay child maintenance
- there is a Court Order in place which was made after 3 March 2003 but that order has only been in place for less than 12 months
- where there is a written agreement in place which predates 5 April 1993 (highly unlikely to now apply).
Under the 2003 scheme
If any of the above 3 scenarios apply, the correct course of action is to re-apply to the Court that originally made the Order for an Order varying or discharging the original.
Where there is a relatively good relationship between the parents, it is perfectly acceptable to enter into a private agreement for the payment of child maintenance. There is no obligation to involve the CSA, or CMS. However, any agreement reached is not binding.
The CSA calculator is available to assist in establishing what level of maintenance the CSA would assess as being payable were they to become involved, and this can be a useful starting point. It is important to note that overnight staying contact has an impact on the level of child support maintenance payable.
In addition, information and advice is available from Child Maintenance Options. They provide free and impartial advice, and can be contacted on (0800) 988 0988 or by visiting www.cmoptions.org.
A Court Order providing for the payment of child maintenance is usually obtained when the parties agree on the entirety of the financial arrangements between them on divorce, and wish to include the child support arrangements in the body of the resulting Consent Order, or where either the child or parent is outside of the UK.
Whilst the order is in force, the parties cannot ask the child support agency to become involved unless the order has been in place for 12 months and two months notice has been given of your intention not to be bound by the Order.
If you are negotiating payment of child maintenance there is no reason why payments at a rate higher than that which would be assessed by the Child Support Agency cannot be agreed.