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Child Maintenance – the Legal Options for Financial Support 

Date Added 29.02.24

Deciding to end your relationship or marriage can be a stressful time. Despite the emotional strain, there are also legal requirements to consider. For couples with children, one of the biggest considerations will be child maintenance. Whether you are based in Letchworth, Hitchin, Stevenage, Welwyn or beyond, our family solicitors are here to help. Below, you will find some of the most frequently asked questions concerning child maintenance and more information on how Tollers family solicitors can assist you.

What is child maintenance?

In cases where parents have separated, child maintenance is an amount of money paid by the parent who does not live day-to-day with their child or children. This amount is then used to contribute to the child’s everyday living costs, meaning it is essential for all separating parents to have an agreement in place. This agreement will usually continue until the child finishes full-time education at the age of 18. Child maintenance payments can be continued voluntarily beyond this should the non-residential parent wish to continue making payments.

There are a few routes available to parents looking to put a child maintenance agreement in place. It is possible, of course, for parents to agree the payments themselves, often referred to as a private agreement. To calculate the amount that needs to be paid, parents may wish to use an online child maintenance calculator. The government’s Child Maintenance Service (CMS) provides an online calculator for this purpose. Regardless of the decision you come to, our Hitchin, Letchworth, Welwyn and Stevenage family solicitors are always on standby to advise and help you come to the best solution for you and your family.

What is the CMS (Child Maintenance Service)

If an arrangement cannot be agreed upon, parents may wish to contact the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) which was formerly known as the Child Support Agency.  The CMS is a government agency that deals with child maintenance payments. In calculating how much the non-residential parent will pay, the CMS will consider many factors, including the non-residential’s gross income, pension contributions, how many children they have, how often their children stay overnight with them and whether any other children live in their home.

The CMS can assist parents in several ways, including calculating, collecting and enforcing payments on behalf of the residential parent. In cases where the separated parents do not wish to have contact, the CMS can be relied upon as a trustworthy third party and can even help locate a parent should the claimant no longer have the non-residential parent’s address. Once the CMS has established an arrangement, then any outstanding arrears can then be enforced.

For information on the CMS, you can visit the government website at:

https://www.gov.uk/child-maintenance-service

What is a private agreement?

Parents can put in place a private agreement by negotiating directly with the other parent or with the assistance of a solicitor. When both parents can agree on a set amount of money to be paid in support, this is referred to as a ‘Family Based Arrangement’. This kind of agreement can also cover additional costs, such as school trips or school uniforms and any other payments that can be made to supplement a child’s upbringing.

Whereas a private agreement does afford more flexibility, it is also important to bear in mind that it is not legally binding, meaning the agreement cannot always be enforced should the non-residential parent not keep to it. In this scenario, the residential parent will be able to contact the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), though the non-residential parent will only be required to make payments from the date of the application. Our family solicitors are thoroughly experienced in this area of law and will assist you throughout any eventuality.

For more information on private agreements, visit our website at:

https://www.tollers.co.uk/family-law/finances-on-breakdown/child-maintenance-and-support/

When will I have to apply to the courts for child maintenance?

In some scenarios, it may be appropriate for the courts to be involved. This is usually the case where parents cannot reach a private agreement and when the CMS is unable to assist with a maintenance application. This might occur when:

  • A non-residential parent is supporting stepchildren;
  • There are education-related fees;
  • A non-residential parent lives abroad;
  • Costs related to meeting the needs of any disabilities;
  • A non-residential parent has income above the CMS upper limit (£3,000 a week gross before deductions).

Our family solicitors in Letchworth, Hitchin, Stevenage and Welwyn understand that, for some, the idea of going to the courts can be a daunting prospect and are prepared to assist you in every way we can. Our solicitors not only specialise in this area of law but are equipped to support you and your family throughout whatever the process might call for.

What is the difference between a Child Maintenance Agreement and a Child Arrangement Order?

Though child maintenance agreements can often be confused with Child Arrangement Orders, the two are not the same, and it is important to know the difference. Whereas a maintenance agreement sets out the amount for a non-residential parent to pay to supplement their child or children’s upbringing, a Child Arrangement Order regulates with whom a child can live or otherwise have contact. Child Arrangement Orders are made under the Children Act 1989. These replaced what were previously known as ‘Custody and Access Orders’ and, more recently, ‘Residence and Contact Orders’.

For more information about Child Arrangement Orders, contact Tollers Family Law team at:

https://www.tollers.co.uk/family-law/child-law/child-arrangements-orders-cao/

Talk to Tollers

Regardless of the path you decide to go down, it is important to get the best possible advice. At Tollers, our experienced Family Law department advises clients on all the possible options available regarding child Maintenance, ensuring they achieve the best outcomes for all those living in the locations we serve.  For more information… Talk to Tollers on 01604 258558.

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