How much should I pay in child maintenance/how much child maintenance should I receive?
Whether or not you are married, if you have children, you will need to consider not only contact arrangements (which we talk about here), but also financial ones to ensure their needs are met.
The first port of call would be the Child Maintenance Service (the 'CMS'), which has primary jurisdiction to make a child maintenance calculation. The CMS is able to assist where:
- there is a qualifying child;
- there is a person with care ('PWC');
- there is a non-resident parent ('NRP');
- all parties (i.e. the child, PWC and NRP) are all habitually resident in the UK.
The formula used by the CMS to provide an indicative sum of child maintenance payable can accessed on their website here.
This formula can be used by both the PWC and the NRP. If you are the PWC, you will be asked to provide details of the NRP’s taxable income (including any benefits), the number of children, and the number of nights spent with the NRP.
Where the care of the children is shared equally, there will be no calculation made by the CMS, although consideration will need to be given to cases where one parent has a much higher income than the other.
In cases where the address of the NRP is unknown, the PWC can ask the CMS directly to make an assessment. They will be able to contact the NRP’s employer, bank or other government bodies to obtain key information.
If the following conditions apply, a PWC can apply to the courts for additional child maintenance:
- there is a maintenance calculation in force with respect to the child;
- the NRP's weekly income exceeds £3,000 gross per week; and
- the court deems it appropriate to make a maintenance provision in addition to the child support maintenance order already payable by the NRP.
This is known as a ‘top up order’. The sum awarded depends on the particular circumstances of the case.
More generally, the court is normally only involved in determining a child maintenance payment where:-
- the CMS does not have jurisdiction (i.e. the above criteria is met); and
- the parents manage to reach an agreement by way of a consent order; or
- the order is in relation to:-
a. educational expenses;
b. costs incurred as a result of a disability; and
c. top- up orders (as indicated above);
In addition, there are other orders available for the benefit of children and these are:
1. Lump sum orders
A PWC can make multiple applications for lump sum orders over time. These are usually made in relation to expenses to be incurred for the benefit of the children. These may include but not be limited to items such as a laptop, furniture for the children’s bedroom, or a car to do school pick-ups and drop-offs.
2. Property adjustment orders / Settlement of property orders
A PWC can apply for such orders in order to have a property transferred to them for the benefit of the children. The property is usually transferred back to the NRP once the children either reach the age of 18, or complete tertiary education. Alternatively, the court may direct that the property may be sold once the children either reach the age of 18, or complete tertiary education, with the net proceeds of sale split as determined by the court.
The courts are currently experiencing serious backlogs, which unfortunately has led to significant delays in processing applications regarding payments for the benefit of children. This is one of several reasons why it is nearly always sensible to instruct family lawyers to seek to negotiate child maintenance payments (if a figure is agreed it can be incorporated into a consent order).
Where an order is made in relation to young children, it is likely that the arrangements will need to be varied over time. In any event, child maintenance needs to be reassessed each year, to ensure the correct amount is paid in accordance to changes to income or contact.
The above is only a summary of some options that may be available to you. If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please get in touch to arrange an initial consultation to discuss your issues in more depth. We will be able to advise you on the steps to take to ensure you are paying or receiving the correct amount of child maintenance and that other costs relating to your children are covered appropriately.
If you require advice and/or representation in respect of child maintenance payments, and/or a divorce or separation, contact our specialist family law solicitors by sending us an email, completing our online enquiry form or calling on 020 3811 2782
Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.