Child Maintenance – all you ever needed to know

By Norman Taylor, Collaborative Family Lawyer

The UK’s sixth largest union has hit out against the government’s Child Maintenance Service (CMS) condemning moves to charge parents a fee to access its help.

Jayne Craven, industrial officer for the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has spoken out against the replacement for the Child Support Agency (CSA), claiming that children will lose out.

“The government believes parents should be able to make their own arrangements when it comes to the care of their children. But if they do need help from a government department, they are going to have to pay to use it – the money will go to the government coffers and not to the child,” she explained.

Under proposed new rules, parents unable to reach a mutual agreement on payment will both be charged a fee if they ask the CMS to intervene. The paying parent will have a 20% fee added to the maintenance payment, while the receiving parent will have to pay 4% to ensure they receive the money to which they are entitled.

Jones Myers is greatly concerned by the introduction of the CMS, particularly as figures recently released reveal that since August 2013, the total number of cases seeking the input of the CMS has risen by 63% from 4,500 to 59,700 by May 2014, confirming that parents need external help to settle the issue of child maintenance.

As a number of our clients are seeking the support of the CMS, we thought it would be a good idea to answer some of the key questions we are often asked.

How is child maintenance worked out?

The amount of money allocated is based upon gross income with deductions for pension contributions made by the paying parent, but not contributions made by his or her employer.

Further reductions may apply depending on the number of nights the child stays with the paying parent per week, and for the number of children in his or her household, which, for example, might be from another relationship or even be the children of a new cohabiting partner.

How much child maintenance will I be entitled to and what will I be expected to pay?

The CMS has a formula to calculate the amount of maintenance that needs to be paid. A basic rate applies if your gross weekly income is up to £800 and a basic plus rate if it is between £800 – £3,000.

How do I receive child maintenance or make child maintenance payments?

The best way to arrange payment is either by private agreement, or to include it in a court order so that the payment is directly paid to the receiving parent. Payment can also be made through the CMS, but they charge a fee for this. If a child maintenance court order is more than 12 months old, you can apply to the CMS for an assessment and this replaces the court order.

What happens if my ex won’t pay?

Payments under a court order can be enforced through the court system. If arrears build up after a CMS assessment, they will take action to enforce arrears that have built up. They will, however, charge for this service.

I’m self-employed and run my own business, but don’t have a set salary. How will the court decide how much I should pay?

Initially, the court will apply the CMS formula, probably using the last documents filed with HM Revenue and Customs, such as a tax return or business accounts. It can also take into account other factors and order more up-to-date financial information to assess the true income and benefits available to you from your business. The court has the power to assess and take into account both parties’ circumstances, which gives it more flexibility than the CMS.

How long do I have to pay child maintenance for?

You will normally be expected to provide maintenance, either through the court or CMS, until a child is 18 years old or ceases full time education or training. The court can extend an order for maintenance for older children who remain in full time education or training, or who have special needs.

Do you have any other questions about child maintenance that you would like answering? We’d like to hear from you so please call us on 0113 246 0055, leave us a comment below or drop us an e-mail.

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