This has become a more complex area as there have been huge changes to the way maintenance for a child is calculated and enforced, and two new government agencies have been set up to assist with any new child maintenance claims. If you have already involved the old Child Support Agency then the following will not apply, although even those historic arrangements will be changing by 2017 we are told, so watch this space.
The government have created ‘Child Maintenance Options’ to promote the agreement of maintenance between parents directly. If this does not work then, as the payment of maintenance for a child is a legal duty, there is the new Statutory Child Maintenance Service who will, they say, locate a parent and make them pay.
The government is very keen to point out that many parents who separate are able to make their own arrangements directly as to the amount to be paid monthly by one parent to the other for the benefit of their children. They say that over half a million families have managed to agree what they are now calling these ‘family-based arrangements’.
A great benefit of a family-based arrangement is that the agreement reached can include ‘payments in kind’ such as paying for the school uniforms or lunch money. This flexibility is usually much more suitable for the monthly needs of the separated parents and the children involved.
To assist separated parents on reaching such an agreement is the new Child Maintenance Options website at http://www.cmoptions.org. The CMOptions website is very useful and has lots of valuable documents on it, including budgeting spreadsheets and guides on how to deal with, and reach an agreement with, your ex. You can also chat online through the website with an agent, or you can ring 0800 988 0988 to speak to someone directly.
The website gives guidance on how to work out what is an appropriate sum of child maintenance. Firstly it suggests that the separated parents could work out what the income and outgoings are for each household; secondly, they would work out what the children need and what they cost; and, finally, agree on who pays for what. Sounds simple doesn’t it?
The website notes that some parents would prefer to use the Child Maintenance Calculator which is also a link on the CMOptions website. The Calculator is the same as that which would be used if agreement cannot be reached, and the new ‘Statutory Child Maintenance Service’ be needed to make a parent pay.
The Calculator requires that you input the other parent’s gross income (the sum they receive before their tax and national insurance payments have been deducted), after you have deducted any sum they are paying towards their pension. The calculator also asks you to put in the number of children that should be paid for, and the number of children in the paying parent’s household, and the number of nights per year the children would stay with that other parent. Having submitted all of this information a fiendishly complex calculation is performed and a sum pops out at the end.
If you can agree something with your ex by whatever method then that is great and nothing formal has be done. However, I would always try to put any agreement in writing, and to this end the CMOptions website has a pro-forma Family-Based Arrangement Form. This not only helps in noting down the agreement reached, it also provides a space for each parent to sign to say they do actually agree to those terms!
If an agreement cannot be reached for whatever reason, and you have spoken or chatted with the CMOptions team first, then a referral to the Statutory Child Maintenance Service can be made. As I mentioned above, there is a standardised online Calculator for calculating the maintenance that would have to be paid. However, there are now fees to be paid for involving the SCMS, including:
- A £20 application fee for applying to the statutory scheme.
- A 20% collection fee on top of their usual child maintenance amount for paying parents using the Collect & Pay service.
- A 4% collection fee deducted from their usual child maintenance amount for receiving parents using the Collect & Pay service.
- A range of enforcement charges for paying parents who don’t pay child maintenance in full and on time.
In conclusion, if you can agree something that is flexible and works for you then that is fantastic. If you cannot, or you need some help in what sort of sum should be paid, the Child Maintenance Calculator is the best starting place. It is not absolute and isn’t flexible but it is a good starting point for discussion. And if you need assistance with that discussion you can always mediate and please see my short piece on mediation for details of this process.
If all else fails then the Statutory Child Maintenance Service can be invoked, but that costs both the payer and the receiver in applicant fees and collection charges.
Of course you may need assistance from a solicitor with all of this. And some child costs such as school fees are not included in the Child Maintenance Calculator in any event. The CMOptions website correctly suggests that legal advice may be needed in some circumstances and provides a link to the family solicitor’s association known as Resolution, of which I am a member.