A Guide to Child Support and Child Maintenance
Child support or child maintenance is the method through which financial support is paid by a separated - not necessarily - divorced parent, and is received by the parent with whom their child usually lives.
It is not usually arranged as part of the divorce settlement, as the courts have limited power over maintenance or support, other than to incorporate the details of an existing agreement into an order. However, the courts will want to ensure that adequate arrangements have been made for the upbringing and welfare of the child.
Read on for more information about how child support arrangements are calculated and appealed. If you’d like to speak to a member of our team about a child dispute, visit our dedicated service page, or give us a call on 0800 083 0815.
How the Child Maintenance Service works
Under UK law, child support can either be handled as a private arrangement between you and the other parent, or made through a government scheme known as the Child Maintenance Service. This body is the responsibility of the Department for Work and Pensions, following the 2012 abolition of the older Child Maintenance Enforcement Commission and the Child Support Agency.
Child maintenance arrangements are essential for children under the age of 16, or under 20 for those still in approved education or training. The Child Maintenance Service is able to:
- work out child maintenance payment amounts
- arrange for the other parent to pay child support and take enforcement action if payments are being missed
- help find the other parent where necessary
- resolve disagreements about parentage
- reexamine payments if changes in parents’ circumstances are reported
The courts retain the power to make orders relating to child support in the following instances:
- Deciding the rights of step-parents, depending on their specific circumstances
- Instances where the parent or child is living abroad
- When children are attending university or are over the age limit
- If parents are still in the same household
- Where there is a maximum maintenance calculation, and the parent with care is seeking to top it up
- Where a child suffers from a disability, and an order is necessary to meet some or all of any expenses related to their disability
- For school fees
Sometimes the child support element of an overall package of support to the parent with care can be incorporated in the court order. These are known as global orders, and can be useful where the total financial support required has been settled, and all that is required is to differentiate the amount allocated for child support from any contribution made for spousal maintenance.
It is worth noting that if the Child Maintenance Service imposes a different child maintenance payment amount after an overall support total has already been ordered by the court, the spousal maintenance figure will be adjusted upwards or downwards to ensure the court-ordered total payment is followed.
Child maintenance payments are calculated with the following objectives:
- To ensure parents take financial responsibility for their children
- To provide support services
- To encourage voluntary maintenance arrangements
- To provide a residual statutory service
You can get an estimate of your child support commitments by using the official government-approved child maintenance calculator tool. The amount due will be based on the following details of the parent who will be paying:
- Their income, including state pension
- Any benefits they receive
- The number of nights the child will be staying with them
Please note the Child Maintenance Service will obtain this information from HM Revenue & Customs, meaning the calculation will be based on details from the last available tax year, including any bonuses or commissions.
How do I challenge the calculation?
If a calculation has been made that you believe is incorrect or unfair, you can challenge it within 30 days. Common grounds for successful challenges include:
- Official errors
- The paternity of a child being successfully challenged
- The Child Maintenance Service being made aware of inaccuracies with the information they obtain from HM Revenue & Customs
There is a 25% tolerance level for changes, and a legal obligation on the payer to report any upward change of their presently assessed income if it is more than 25%.
If the Child Maintenance Service is used to arrange child maintenance payments, the following charges apply:
- A £20 application fee
- An additional 20% collection charge paid by the non-resident parent. The parent with care will also have 4% deducted from the support for collection
- Any necessary enforcement-related charges
Applying for a variation
In some cases, it is possible to ask for the Child Maintenance Service to take other factors into account to change the amount due in child support, a process known as applying for a variation.
- Special expenses, such as:
- The cost of maintaining contact over £15 per week; long-term illness or disability of the child
- The presence of debts incurred during the relationship between the parents
- Boarding school fees
- The costs of paying the mortgage of the parent with care, where the payer has no interest in the property
- Diverted or unreasonably reduced income
- The payer being able to prove their lifestyle is inconsistent with their stated income
- The payer having unearned income (for example, by rental or dividends) equal to or exceeding £2,500 per annum
These rules may or may not be applied to your individual case depending on whether it is deemed to be just and equitable to do so.
How are child maintenance payments enforced?
If you fall behind on your child support payments, the Child Maintenance Service can take enforcement action against you, either through a Deduction of Earnings Order, or through a Court Order.
The court will also have the power to take the following actions:
- Seizure and sale of goods
- Enforcing a charging order against the payer's property
- A third-party debt order, freezing funds held by the payer to have them released to the Child Maintenance Service
- The issuing of a committal order through a Magistrates Court, in cases where a wilful refusal or culpable neglect can be demonstrated
- In rare cases, disqualification from driving, up to a maximum of two years
It is also possible for the Child Maintenance Service to recover money owed from the estate of the payer, and orders can be made to prevent the disposal of assets.
Enforcement-related charges include:
- Liability order costs of £300
- Lump sum deduction order costs of £200
- Regular deduction order costs of £50
- Deduction from earnings order costs of £50
How do I appeal a decision?
Any party can appeal a decision to the Child Support Appeal Tribunal. Requests should be made in writing, with formal notice provided to the Child Maintenance Service within one month of the notice of the decision being sent out.
The matter will then be reviewed by a decision-maker. If they choose not to revise the ruling, the issue can be taken up with the First Tier Tribunal, or escalated further to the Upper Tribunal if a legal error is involved.
If the First Tier Tribunal simply does not believe the evidence provided by one of the parties, this is not considered to be a legal error, provided that the decision is seen as reasonable and evidence-based. The Upper Tribunal can make its own decisions, refer cases back to the First Tier Tribunal, or dismiss the case entirely.
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Contact Clough & Willis
At Clough & Willis, we have a great deal of experience in dealing with different types of family matters. Our team of specialist solicitors will provide clear, easy-to-understand advice to guide you through what can be a stressful legal process and will work our hardest to get you the best possible outcome for you