Child maintenance – a guide to recent developments

As many readers will be aware, the Child Support Agency (or CSA as is often more commonly referred to) is no more, having been replaced by the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (often referred to as C-Mec or the Commission).

If you made a maintenance claim prior to 2008, it will still be dealt with by the CSA. However, post-2008 claims are handled by Child Maintenance Options Service (CMOS), whose role will be to assist and support parents in making private agreements. Over the next three to four years, it’s intended all claims will be dealt with by the Commission.

What has happened since the Commission opened for business?

The main change since the Commission came into force (1st November 2008) is that it’s no longer ‘compulsory’ for those in receipt of benefits to make a claim against the non-resident parent. Under the previous scheme, when an application was made for Income Support, for example, a claim was also submitted to the CSA. That is no longer the case. The resident parent can choose to make a private arrangement or elect to seek assistance. In addition, and perhaps of greater importance to those in receipt of benefits is that, since 12 April 2010, the resident parent may keep the whole of the benefit without it being deducted from their income.

What does the future hold for those seeking assistance?

It’s intended that the Commission will have greater enforcement powers to ensure the money goes to where it should – for the benefit of the children. The intention of the Commission is to encourage parents to reach private agreements. The initial enquiry will be made to the “Gateway” where staff will discuss the options: can the parents reach an agreement themselves? If so, they may benefit from assistance with the ‘calculation service’ or the CMOS. You may proceed through the Gateway if an agreement has been tried and failed, or if there is a history of domestic violence, and make a formal application.

An agreement is unlikely to be legally binding – so why bother?

The Commission hopes that by signing an agreement the parents are going to stick to it. This, of course, is not always the case, especially when dealing with a difficult ex-partner or if separation has just occurred and one parent is finding it difficult to speak to the other parent. In these circumstances, the resident parent will go back to the Gateway and will most probably pass through to the formal application stage.

Calculation changes

The calculation of the amount of maintenance to be paid will also change: it’s designed to be fairer. The calculation will be based on gross income at 12% (one child), 16% (two children) and 19% (three or more children). Those paying parents seeking to reduce their maintenance payments by paying additional ‘subs’, trade union fees or more commonly putting more money into their pensions will not be able to avoid paying the proper sum. In addition, there’ll be a two-tier system for those higher earners so that the percentage is not applied to the full income.

Making parents pay?

Perhaps the proposal which has caused the most controversy is the intention to charge the parents for the service. The concern is that this appears to be unfair to the parent who wants to agree matters, when the other will not. Those against this reform are critical that a reasonable party will be penalised for the conduct of the other. In addition, the charge to the parent receiving the payment is deducted from the maintenance, which is intended for the benefit of the children. Ultimately, it is likely a charge or fee scheme will be introduced and those in favour of this believe it will encourage more agreements and less application passing through the Gateway and therefore freeing the Commission up to deal with enforcement.

For more information on this issue, please call 0800 138 0458 or complete the contact form.

What our clients say…

Thank you for all the valuable advice you gave me through my most difficult time and for helping me to achieve some closure.

Family Law Client

Family Law News