The number of children benefiting from Child Maintenance has decreased by 17% according to the DWP’s Child Support Quarterly Summary. This is the lowest since March 2012. The recent Child Support Agency (CSA) case closures have had a dramatic contribution to this reduction.
The report also shows that outstanding Child Maintenance arrears currently stand at a staggering £3.584 bn. Cases with outstanding payments have increased since January 2012 from 54.7% to 55.5%.
The number of male Non-Resident Parents (NRPs) accounts for one in nine live cases, the same as previous quarters. When you consider that 48% of couples divorcing in 2013 had at least one child under 16, it’s clear why there’s a real need to be crystal clear on the subject of Child Maintenance.
What Is Child Maintenance?
Child Maintenance, also known as Child Support, is a weekly amount paid to the Parent With Care (PWC) by the NRP. This helps towards the child’s living costs and ensures their wellbeing isn’t affected following the breakdown of the relationship.
Child Maintenance is so important because it helps to pay for things such as food, clothes, and other essentials. It also ensures both parents provide a healthy relationship for their child.
It’s worth noting that paying Child Maintenance is a legal responsibility. If you miss your weekly payments, the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) will take action to recoup the money.
How Can The Child Maintenance Service Help?
The CMS will help to determine how much Child Maintenance is due. They take into account a number of factors, which we will discuss later on, in order to calculate how much money the NRP needs to be pay each week to the PWC.
Before you apply to the CMS, it’s worth talking to Child Maintenance Options (CMO) to get a clearer understanding of how much the NRP needs to contribute. You can call CMO free on 0800 988 0988 or find out more on their website.
How To Apply For Child Maintenance
Once you have discussed your arrangement options with CMO, you will be given a reference number. If you choose to apply for Child Maintenance, this reference number tells the CMS which route you would prefer to go down.
You will need to provide the following information about you and your family:
- Details of the child you’re applying for
- Your National Insurance number
- Your bank account details
The application fee for this service is £20. However, you won’t have to pay this if you are:
- A victim of domestic violence
- Under 19
- In Northern Ireland
This information is then used to set up and manage the Child Maintenance payments, and sometimes locate the paying parent if an amount goes unpaid.
If the CMS isn’t provided with the necessary information, this can also be taken from:
- The ‘paying’ parent’s employer
- Government organisations such as Jobcentre Plus
- Prison services
- Local councils
- The paying parent’s bank or building society
Most Child Maintenance cases are set up within a month of application. It may take longer if there is an issue contacting the paying parent. The first payment is ordinarily made six weeks after making the arrangements.
Are There Different Payment Methods?
The CMS provides two payment methods. The first is Direct Pay. The CMS calculates how much the paying parent must contribute. Then both parents must come to an agreement on how and when the payments will be made by the PWC.
If the NRP doesn’t pay in full or on time, the CMS may choose to move the case to Collect & Pay.
Collect & Pay is the second payment option that the CMS offers. With this method the CMS collects the amount due from the paying parent and passes it on to the receiving parent.
If the NRP fails to make their payments in full or on time then the CMS may take immediate enforcement action.
Application and enforcement fees were introduced in 2014. This means that if you choose the Collect & Pay service, you will also need to pay for the collection and payment of the Child Maintenance.
In addition to the application fee, there are a number of other costs to take into account when applying for Child Maintenance. There’s a 20% collection fee for paying parents using the Collect & Pay service. This is on top of the Child Maintenance amount.
Receiving parents must pay a 4% collection fee for using the Collect & Pay service. This will be deducted from the amount received. Paying parents may have to pay enforcement charges if they fail to make their payments in full and on time.
Parents who have set up a Family-Based Arrangement or have opted for Direct Pay do not have to pay any additional charges.
How Is Child Maintenance Calculated?
There are a number of factors that the CMS takes into consideration when calculating how much Child Maintenance is due.
- Your weekly gross income, before tax and National Insurance is deducted but after pension contributions have been taken
- If you receive certain benefits
- How many children you are paying Child Maintenance for
- The number of other children you support in your household
- How often your child stays with you overnight
Leading international family law firm Cordell & Cordell has created an innovative Child Maintenance Calculator that provides an estimate of what you can expect to pay.
By answering a number of questions, you will be able to get an idea of how much Child Maintenance you or your ex-partner should be paying. The calculator provides an estimated amount, so it’s worth seeking guidance from the CMS for further information.
What If My Circumstances Change?
If your circumstances change, for example if your salary increases or decreases, you need to inform HMRC and the CMS straight away. This is because any changes to your personal details may impact the amount of Child Maintenance you should be paying.
This post was written by Haroop Ahluwalia, Divorce Solicitor at Cordell & Cordell.