Providing for the Children: Arranging Child Maintenance Following Divorce
For separating couples who don’t have children, divorce can be relatively straightforward, but for families it is a far more complicated matter. Once it has been decided which parent (or guardian) will care for children day to day, financial arrangements must be put in place to help towards their everyday living costs.
The parent who doesn’t have daily care of the child (known as the non-resident parent) must usually pays financial support to the parent or person who does (resident parent). This is known as ‘child maintenance’ or ‘child support’.
Parents are encouraged to reach agreements as to child maintenance between themselves if possible. If you are both in agreement, it is the quickest and easiest way of proceeding and provides more flexibility. There are no rules governing the nature or frequency of payments. If you opt for a regular monthly payment and need help working out what is fair based on the non-resident parent’s income, you can use the Child Maintenance Calculator, which can be found at https://www.gov.uk/child-maintenance
Family-based arrangements aren’t legally binding and can be reviewed and amended at any time, particularly as the child grows older and his/her needs change. However, this also means the non-resident parent can stop paying at any time.
If you can’t agree
If you are unable to reach an agreement over child maintenance, you may apply to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), which replaces the Child Support Agency (CSA). CMS will undertake an assessment to work out how much should be paid. It can also enforce and collect the payments on behalf of the resident parent.
Child maintenance is paid up to age 16, or 20 if the child is still in full-time education, but only up to A-levels and equivalent. It is possible to apply to Court for an Order that the non-resident parent helps with University fees or living costs, but this is a separate process, and does not involve the CMS.
Changes in the way child maintenance is calculated means payments are now based on a percentage of gross income, rather than a percentage of net income after tax, national insurance and pension contributions as was the case in the past.
There are other relevant factors which will change the amount payable including:
The number of children are involved, and
Whether the parent without care is responsible for any other children
How often the parent without care has the children to stay with him or her during the year
Have a look at the guide published by the Government which sets out full details of how maintenance is calculated:
The Government has indicated that it intends to impose charges for using CMS in the future, with the aim of encouraging more parents to reach agreements directly, so it is well worth considering mediation before taking further action.
If you have reached an agreement between you in relation to child maintenance, this can also be included in a Consent Order which is prepared and lodged at Court during divorce proceedings. But these child maintenance provisions can be superseded at a later date by an application to the CMS.
Other child-related disputes
If you are in disagreement with your spouse in relation to other aspects of childcare, such as whether your child should attend a private or state school, mediation may also be employed to help make arrangements. If you cannot reach an agreement it is open to parents or others with parental responsibility for the child to make a ‘specific issue application’ to Court. The Court then considers the evidence and ultimately determines what is in the best interests of the child.
Either way, it is advisable to seek early advice in the case of any disputes concerning children. We understand the court process and how Judges are likely to interpret the law and can advise as to the possible outcome of any such application, avoiding unnecessary proceedings.
This article is intended as an easy to understand introduction to some aspects of divorce, free of legal jargon. However, divorce is a complex, and unfortunately sometimes non-intuitive area of law. Please contact us for more specific advice about your individual circumstances and the legal processes which apply.
Contact Jane McDonagh