This was first published in the Wigan Observer.
Q: I’m currently paying child maintenance to my former partner of my two young sons. I have heard that next year the Child Support Agency will come to an end and a new system will take its place. Will this new system affect what I currently pay?
A: Separating from your partner can be a distressing time, especially when there are children, not only in relation to how their physical care will be shared by their parents but also the financial consequences of looking after them. Often, parents find it hard to sit down and amicably work out how much money they need to find every month towards the upkeep of their children, for everyday living costs such as clothing, food, day trips out and so on.
Until now separated parents who can’t come to an arrangement for child maintenance through a private agreement could ask the Child Support Agency (CSA) to make a maintenance assessment based upon such things as the numbers of children and amount of overnight contact the child/ren had with the parent without day to day care. This “net” income calculation would be 15%, 20% or 25% of the paying parents’ net income depending upon whether there are 1, 2 or 3 or more children, less 1/7th for each regular weekly overnight contact, as well as allowances for new dependent children of the non-resident parent. For the time being the “old” scheme will continue to be used for those families where there is only one child or there is the same non-resident parent but children with different carers.
From 29th July a new Gross Income scheme has come into force administered by the Child Maintenance Service who will begin to charge a £20 application fee for new cases. There will also be collection charges for non resident parents on top of their child support calculation if they do not opt to pay directly effectively “forcing” parents to co-operate and minimise the cost to the state in collecting maintenance payments.
The Gross income scheme is applicable to those incomes up to £800 per week and those families with the same parents of 2 or more children. You may not notice a change immediately but gradually all cases are intended to be transferred to the “new” scheme.
Maintenance will be payable of 12%, 16% and 19% for 1, 2 and 3 or more children respectively, with similar allowances for overnight contact and new dependants as before. One big change is that the regulations provide for no maintenance payable if there is a true 50/50 sharing of care by both parents. Such arrangements are comparatively rare and this situation can be rebutted by a parent receiving the Child Benefit showing they should receive maintenance. This will be important for those families where one parent receives a much greater income than the other, regardless of the arrangements.
In those situations whereby the income is greater than those provided for in the scheme, there is still an ability to apply to court for a “top up”, but such proceedings can be complex and you should always seek advice from an experienced family lawyer before embarking on such an application.
There is a calculator online where you can obtain an estimate of what your projected payments would be: https://www.gov.uk/calculate-your-child-maintenance
Statistics released in June 2013 showed that the CSA was dealing with over one million claims but it’s not essential to use the CSA or indeed the CMS to work out an arrangement with your former partner. A family-based arrangement, if you both agree, could also work. More than 500,000 families use this system as a way to arrange child maintenance already. What is important is that you receive appropriate advice if you are uncertain what you are paying to, or in fact receiving from your former partner.
By Chris Fairhurst, associate solicitor in the family law team