Guide to Child Maintenance Law
If you are having relationship problems, you may be considering getting a divorce. Whilst instigating divorce proceedings is difficult for anyone, it is more complicated if you have children. Couples who are separating and have children must make financial provisions, including child maintenance arrangements. Both parents still have a duty of care to their children after divorce, meaning you must still financially support them. Our guide to child maintenance law provides advice on how to apply and arrange payments, plus how much you might receive from your ex-partner.
What is Child Maintenance
If you divorce your partner but you share a child together, you are responsible for the financial support of the child. These payments will be used towards the daily living and care costs involved when raising a child. Generally, child maintenance is paid until the child is 16, or until they are 20 if in higher education.
Payments usually go towards:
- Educational expenses, such as school uniform
- Leisure activities
It can also cover housing costs, such as utility bills or mortgage payments, as these are necessary for a child to have a safe place to live. In summary, child maintenance should be used for any regular living expenses.
Having a child maintenance arrangement in place is important for separating parents, because it provides stability and security for both parties. Moreover, a parent must make child maintenance payments as a legal requirement.
Because of the complexity of divorce, it can be difficult for ex-partners to agree on a fair child maintenance arrangement.
Arranging Child Maintenance
There are four ways to arrange child maintenance:
- Family-based arrangement
- Direct pay
- Collect and pay
- Court-ordered arrangement
More than half a million families in the UK decide on a family-based arrangement. This involves you and your ex-partner forming your own agreement. Both of you will decide how much should be paid, and how often it will be paid. There is no court involvement; the informal arrangement is completely private and not normally legally binding. This method is useful for amicable separating couples – however, many divorces do not run so smoothly. If the parents cannot make an arrangement, or if the arrangement is no longer working, the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) can be involved.
With the direct pay and collect and pay arrangements, the CMS calculate how much you should pay or be paid. If the CMS gets involved with your dispute, you will usually incur some charges for their service.
Direct pay means both partners will arrange themselves how the payments will be made. However, with collect and pay, the CMS will collect money from one parent and transfer it to the other.
Finally, in come cases, a court-ordered arrangement may be necessary if your situation is complicated. Court-ordered arrangements are usually for cases such as:
- Families with step children
- Parents with disabled children who have additional care costs
- Where the child is in full-time education which has related expenses, such as school fees
- If the paying parent does not live in the UK
- Where the paying parent has a very high income
If you proceed with a court-ordered arrangement, you should seek legal advice. Child maintenance solicitors are the right people to represent you in court, as you will need expert knowledge and guidance.
How Much Child Maintenance to Pay
Generally, the CMS calculate how much you should pay. This is based on your gross income, with consideration of other payments which affect your income, like pension contributions. The CMS review this annually, but you are legally required to report changes to your circumstances, such as an increase or decrease in income.
Depending on how the CMS calculates your income, your weekly payments will look like this for one child:
|Gross weekly income||Weekly amount|
|£7 to £100||£7|
|£100.01 to £199.99||Calculated with a formula|
|£200 to £3,000||Calculated with a formula|
If your ex-partner is the paying parent and has a gross income of more than £3,000 per week, you should use the assistance of child maintenance solicitors and take the matter to court.
Advice on Applying for Child Maintenance
Following a relationship breakdown, you and your ex-partner might find it difficult to come to a rational agreement. Getting a divorce has a serious emotional impact, and you may not even want to think about child maintenance law at this time.
On the other hand, your child’s or children’s welfare is paramount. Even if you have separated from the other parent, you are still responsible for your child’s care and wellbeing, including financial upkeep.
If you are applying for child maintenance, it is recommended you seek the advice of professionals. Child maintenance solicitors are the best people to give you their specialist knowledge of child maintenance law. They also have essential experience of the courts, should you require a court-based arrangement. Child maintenance solicitors can explain how much you will be paid and form an arrangement for you. Additionally, they can take the matter to court if you have not been receiving the correct payments.
Major Family Law can provide our best child maintenance solicitors, offering informed advice on the law and, in some cases, full court representation.