Going through a divorce or break-up can raise a number of important questions and concerns, particularly if there are children under the age of 16 (or under 20 if they are still in education or training) involved in the split. For the purposes of this blog, we will refer to the parent a child lives with as the ‘resident parent’ and the parent who lives away as ‘the non-resident parent’. English law now refers to ‘residence’ which describes the place where a child lives. To put it more simply, it would be the place where their official documents would be sent.
Child maintenance payments can sometimes become a particularly fraught issue, especially if the non-resident parent has limited access to their children. While it is always an extremely emotive issue, it is always important to remember that child support is not the same as child access arrangements, and parents have a legal responsibility to financially provide for their children.
How do I apply for child maintenance?
Parents who are separating can create child maintenance agreements in a number of different ways. It is possible to agree maintenance through negotiation between both parties, however agreements that are made privately and away from the Court are not legally enforceable. This means that the non-resident parent cannot be forced to stick to the agreement.
In cases of divorce or a dissolution of a civil partnership, parents can apply to the Court to have an agreement turned into a court order. This then provides the Court with the powers to enforce the order. After twelve months either parent can opt out of the court order and instead go through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).
The CMS calculates the amount a non-resident parent should pay and sets up a schedule. If parents decide to use the service to collect and transfer payments, there is a fee for each transaction.
How is child maintenance calculated?
Maintenance is calculated based on the non-resident parent’s gross income (that’s income before deductions), the number of children, and the number of nights the children spend in their primary residence. The CMS has a useful calculator which can help to give an idea of the amount of child maintenance you could receive.
It is important to remember that child maintenance does not affect any benefits that the resident parent may receive and is not based on the income of the household of the resident parent. This means that should the financial situation of the parent the child lives with improve, child maintenance payments will still need to be made.
For non-resident parents, income information is provided to the Child Maintenance Service by HMRC and will relate to the latest available tax year.
Will my maintenance payments change if my income does?
For non-resident parents, child maintenance is calculated based on your income and the CMS uses HMRC tax data to make the calculation. In cases of job loss or redundancy it is possible to provide evidence to the CMS to ask them to base your liability on your current income. If the figure is 25% less than the figure provided by HMRC a new payment will be calculated. Similarly, if your income goes up, your child maintenance liability will also be recalculated.
For resident parents, changes in household income will have no impact on the payments you receive.
When does child maintenance end?
In most cases child maintenance payments continue until either a child reaches 16 years of age and leaves education, or until they are 20 and in full time education or training, for example A-Levels (this does not include advanced education such as degrees).
Every break up involving children is different and Jarmans Solicitors’ team of experienced family lawyers are always available to answer any child maintenance or support questions you may have. Contact us to make an appointment.