In simple terms, child maintenance, or child support, can be defined as the regular and reliable financial support towards a child’s upkeep, which includes clothes, food, and other essentials. Most often, it is the parent who doesn’t have the main day-to-day care of the child that pays child support. Now, the aim of this maintenance payment is to ensure that the child gets a stable home and that he or she is brought up in the best possible circumstances. The payment can either be paid to the parent who cares for the child on a daily basis or can be spent directly on the child – if he or she is grown enough – which is mostly as a part of a family-based arrangement. Please note that you don’t need to have contact with the child to pay child maintenance. In fact, legally, a parent is required to pay child support even if they don’t have contact with the child. Equally, a parent who doesn’t pay child maintenance cannot be denied contact with the child.
Who has to pay child maintenance?
For starters, we have to state that child maintenance is a legal requirement, since all the parents are required by law to take care of the child, financially. But any parent who spends less than half of the time living with the child is required to pay child maintenance. Child maintenance has to be paid for:
- Any child under the age of 16;
- Children under 20 years and are in school full time;
- Children aged 16 or 17 who are not in school full time, as they are registered to work with a career service.
How is child maintenance arranged?
There are three ways through which child maintenance can be organised:
- Family-based arrangement;
- Consent order;
- Child maintenance service.
Family-based arrangement – this is simply when the parents discuss and agree amongst themselves on how the child maintenance is going to be paid. Any kind of agreement is acceptable in this arrangement, as long as both parents agree. The agreement could be regular payments, or lump-sum payments, or even payments of things such as nappies or school uniforms, and many other things.
Family arrangements are the best and the simplest option for child maintenance, as the parents can agree on the amount to be paid and in whatever form both of them would like, which is unlike other options. The only problem with such an agreement is the fact that they are not legally binding, as they are simply an agreement between individuals. What if one parent changes his/her mind or stops paying the maintenance? There is just no way to enforce it legally! But luckily, when something like that happens, you can still use other means to ensure that child maintenance is still being paid.
Consent order – if both of you reach an agreement with regards to the child maintenance, the best way to ensure that both parents respect the agreement is to make it legally binding, and that’s you involve a family court. Basically, you will be seeking a consent order which both parents agree to the terms and has to be followed. In most cases, a consent order is used when the parents are divorcing and are sorting out their finances. With a consent order in place, the arrangement can be enforced through the court, which is something a family-based arrangement lacks. This option is a bit costly though considering the court fees that you need to pay the court for the order to be issued. However, when you consider the advantage, it’s totally worth it.
Child Maintenance Service – if both you and your partner can’t reach an agreement regarding child maintenance, then the other option is CMS. But before going this route, it is recommended that you call Child Maintenance Options to weigh out your options, which include considering a family-based arrangement. But if you have tried and had failed, then the Child Maintenance Options will give you a reference number that you will use while making your application. The CMS works out the period within which the payment is to last, plus the actions that would be taken against the paying parent in the event that they stop paying the required amount. But you can’t control how and when the CMS takes enforcement action when the paying parent doesn’t pay.
If you have suffered domestic abuse from your partner, this is the best option to use to get them to pay child support. Here is what will be needed from you when making your application:
- Your bank account details
- Your national insurance number
- The name of your child, plus his or her date of birth
- Both parents full names
- The amount of time the child spends with each parent
- And lastly, you will need to provide information about the paying parent, including his/her address, and other contact details that would enable CMS to find them.
How much is child maintenance?
There is no definite answer to this, as there are so many things that are taken into consideration when determining the amount. If you are using the CMS option, then the amount to be paid is worked out using a standard formula that not only takes into account the paying parent’s income, but also any other children that he or she may be responsible for. If you are going the family-based arrangement route, both of you can agree on the amount to be paid as child maintenance. Even though it may be difficult, it might be better this way.
So, how much child maintenance should I pay?
As we mentioned earlier, if you are using the CMS option, there are a number of factors that would be considered when determining the amount to be paid, including:
- The income of the payer
- The number of children involved
- The amount of time you spend with the child
- If there are other children from separate relationships that are depending on you.
As the non-resident parent, the amount is calculated by applying a specific rate to your gross weekly income:
- Basic rate
- Reduced rate
- Flat rate
- Nill rate
Basic rate – if your gross weekly income ranges between 200-800 GBP, you will be placed on a basic rate. The amount to be paid will depend on the number of children who are dependent on you. Assuming you are responsible for just one child, then in that case the payment would be 12% of your weekly income.
Reduced rate – if your weekly income is between 100 to 200 GBP, then you will be put under a reduced rate, where you will be required to pay a standard weekly rate of 7 pounds on the first 100 GBP, plus an additional percentage on the rest of the income. Assuming we are talking of one child in this case, then you will pay 7 pounds on the first 100 GBP plus an additional 17% on the remaining income.
Flat rate – if your weekly income is below 100 GBP, then a flat rate of 7 pounds will be applied to you.
Nill rate – if your weekly income is less than 7 pounds, then you will not be required to pay any child maintenance.
If you are paying child maintenance for more than one child, of course, the amount you will be paying will obviously be high. Assuming you are on the basic rate, your payment will be as follows:
- 12% of your weekly income for one child;
- 16% of your weekly income for two children
- 19% of your weekly income for three or more children.
But if you are on a reduced rate, you will pay 7 pounds on the first 100 GBP, plus:
- 17% of your remaining weekly income for one child;
- 25% of your remaining income for two children, and;
- 31% of your remaining income for three or more children.
How is child maintenance paid?
There are two main ways in which one can make child maintenance payments, including:
- Direct pay – this is when the paying parent directly makes the payments to the receiving parent. It is commonly done through a standing order into a bank account, which allows both parents to keep track of the payment and also ensure that they are made in full every time.
- Collect & pay – this is when money is paid to CMS, who pays the money to the receiving parent. However, the CMS charges for this service where the paying parent pays 20 percent extra on the maintenance payment as a collection fee, and the receiving parent pays a 4 percent fee when they come to receive the money.
What does child maintenance cover?
Parents do have different expectations on what child maintenance should cover. And to be honest, if you are the parent who is caring for the child most of the time, it can actually be super frustrating to learn about the limits of child maintenance coverage, or better yet, what the maintenance doesn’t cover. Even more, frustration comes your way if you are the parent being asked to pay child maintenance and your ex-partner – who will be receiving the money – is earning more money than you, but it’s not taken into account.
So, when calculating the amount of child maintenance to be paid, the child’s needs or the receiving parent’s financial situation are not considered, as CMS entirely focuses on the paying parent’s income. The reason for this is the fact that Child Maintenance doesn’t look at what it is used for, but instead, it purely uses a strict mathematical formula that takes several factors into account. In essence, the child maintenance can cover a lot of things which includes: payment of mortgage, gas, food bills, electricity, as well as things like uniform, school fees, and other child-related expenses.
Do I have to pay child maintenance if my ex remarries?
Yes, you have to! When parents divorce, the absent parents, is the one obliged by the law to pay child maintenance to the parent who will be caring for the child. If the receiving parent was to get married, then in no way will their new spouse’s income be used in any child maintenance calculations for your child. That obligation is yours! The new spouse can’t be legally expected to provide financial support for kids that that are not his or hers.
How to reduce child maintenance payments?
The child maintenance amount is reviewed on an annual basis. If you are looking to reduce the amount you are paying, there are a number of circumstances that can allow you to do just that – you just need to report them to the CMS. But first, changes such as you becoming self-employed, or maybe you started, or stopped, receiving benefits, must be reported to the CMS, otherwise, you will be fined up to 1000 pounds.
Now, having the amount you pay as child maintenance reduced is not that easy, unless you lost your job, in which case you need to get in touch with the CMS, to inform them of the change of circumstances. In such a case, the amount you pay as child maintenance might be reduced to reflect these new changes.
When does child maintenance stop?
You are required to pay child maintenance until the child turns 16 years, or 20 years if he or she is in A-Level, full-time. In some cases, the child maintenance is required to cover even university education. However, the receiving parent needs to apply to the court before the order comes to end. Moreover, the payments can also stop earlier if one parent dies or if the child no longer qualifies for child benefit. Other cases where child maintenance can stop are:
- If the child relocates from the UK
- If the child is adopted
- If both parents get back together and start cohabiting
- If the parents were to agree to equally care for the child
Enforcement when a parent lives outside the UK
The CMS can only deal with child maintenance applications when both parents, as well as the child, lives in the UK, with the exceptions of a paying parent:
- Who works abroad either as a civil servant or in diplomatic service for Her Majesty;
- Who works in the army;
- Who works overseas in a company that’s based and registered in the UK;
- Who works overseas for an NHS organisation.
But if the paying parent lives overseas, and these categories don’t apply, then the receiving parent can apply to the court for child maintenance. However, successful enforcement of an order from the court will depend on whether the parent lives in a country where the Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Orders (REMO) applies or not. In simple terms, REMO is the process by which maintenance orders made in the UK on behalf of its citizens are registered and enforced in other countries’ courts. With this same reciprocal arrangement, if the paying parent lives in a country that REMO applies to, then it would be much easier and you will be guaranteed regular child maintenance payments. It also means that foreign maintenance orders favouring people living abroad can be registered and enforced in the UK against UK residents.
What if I want to continue supporting my child?
If it’s your wish to continue supporting your child, then you should know that there are no restrictions against it. But in such a case, you will be the one to determine the amount you want to pay. As a matter of fact, you even don’t need, or you are not required , to make the payment to your ex-partner anymore, as you can just support the child directly. This is your child, and even after school, it is good to support him or her both financially and emotionally as they navigate life.
Child maintenance is a complex topic which is why it is important to seek legal advice from a family attorney. Get in touch with one and begin the process of securing a brighter future for your child.