In this blog post I talk about child maintenance and hopefully answer the most commonly asked questions about it.
What is Child Maintenance?
Child maintenance is usually payable by the parent with whom the child doesn’t live, to the other parent, in accordance with the rules of the Child Maintenance Service if there are children (but not step-children) aged 19 and under in full time education.
How to claim Child Maintenance?
Child maintenance is often paid by agreement or, if it cannot be agreed, through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) on application – a fee is payable. Sometimes it is possible for the court to order child maintenance where it is not agreed, but this would only be in comparatively rare cases such as a child with a disability, a paying parent with income in excess of £3,000 gross per week where an additional top up is thought to be necessary, or sometimes in relation to a step child.
What does Child Maintenance cover?
Child maintenance is a contribution towards the everyday living costs (such as food, clothing, holidays, household expenses etc) of the child. It is not designed to cover substantial extra costs such as school fees. School fees should be agreed separately or by an application to the court if not agreed.
When do Child Maintenance payments stop?
Child support maintenance is paid in relation to children aged 19 and under who are in full time education to A-Level or equivalent. Maintenance stops if the child is between the ages of 16 and 19 once the child ceases full time education.
How much Child Maintenance is payable?
This depends on various factors and parents can agree their own rate of maintenance if they wish. However, many people use the formula set down by the CMS as a guideline. In summary, the CMS formula states that the paying parent pays a percentage of their gross income. There are different rates, but the main basic rate (payable by parents with a gross income of between £200 and £800 per week) states that for:
- One child 12% of gross weekly income is payable
- Two children 16% of gross weekly income is payable.
- Three or more children 19% of gross weekly income is payable
Where the gross income of the paying parent exceeds £800 per week, the percentage rates used for the portion of income exceeding £800 is lower (9% for one child; 12% for 2 children and 15% for 3 or more children).
At the time of writing the maximum weekly sum that can be paid by way of child maintenance under the CMS rules is £482 per week, regardless of the number of children. Of course a different figure (higher or lower) can be agreed amicably between parents and, as mentioned above, there are occasions when a top up order from the Court to increase the sum payable under the CMS rules is appropriate.
Gross income is normally that declared to HMRC for the previous 12 months and is the figure before deduction for tax and National Insurance. However, an allowance is made for pension contributions and the percentage to pay is therefore calculated after pension contributions have been deducted.
Are any allowances made to Child Maintenance for overnight stays?
Deductions are made from the percentage set out above in a limited number of situations such as the following:
- Overnight stays
- Any other children living in the paying parent’s household
In relation to overnight stays, the following will reduce the sum of money paid:
- A 1/7 deduction for every night of the week stayed with the paying parent for 52 – 103 nights/year
- A 2/7 deduction for nights stayed from 104-155/year
- A 3/7 deduction for nights stayed from 156/year or more
If there are other children in the paying parent’s household then further deductions to gross weekly income are made of 11% (1 child in new family), 14% (2 children) and 16% (3 or more children).
Whilst child maintenance is very formulaic, it is occasionally possible to argue that the formula should be varied as a result of either “special expenses“ or “additional income“. Examples of special expenses can on occasions be contact costs; the costs of illness or disability of another relevant child; the cost of discharging debts incurred when the parties were together as a couple and the maintenance element to boarding school fees (as opposed to the educational element). Additional income can include ‘diverted income’ if it can be shown that the paying parent has diverted income with the purpose of avoiding payment of child-support.
Variation of Child Maintenance
Child maintenance is usually reviewed annually, taking into account updated income figures. If, during the year, the paying parent’s financial position changes substantially then they can ask for a reassessment if using the CMS. As a guideline, tell the CMS if you are the paying parent and if, amongst other things:
- your current income changes by 25 per cent or more
- you have another child with a new partner
What is a family based arrangement?
You can agree the amount of maintenance payable directly between you both – this is known as a family-based arrangement. It is not legally enforceable, but if difficulties arise then the CMS is always able to make an assessment going forwards. A family mediator can help parents discuss financial needs for the children and help draw up a framework that you can both follow.
If coming to a family-based arrangement you need to consider, amongst other things:
- how much maintenance should be paid
- how often payments should be made
- how and when the payments will be made
- a review date to talk about the arrangement and make any changes if it isn’t working.
Does a step-parent have to pay Child Maintenance?
A step-parent can sometimes be obliged to pay child maintenance if they have treated the child as their own, although first call will be made on the biological/adoptive parent for maintenance. Where maintenance is being paid it is less likely that a claim against the step-parent will succeed.
The CMS cannot order a step-parent to pay child maintenance. Any application for maintenance against a step-parent therefore has to be made through the Family Court.
Will Child Maintenance affect your benefits?
If the parent in receipt of child maintenance receives any social security benefits, then they should be able to keep all child maintenance paid as it does not usually affect benefits claimed. It should also not affect any housing benefit or tax credits awards received.
Some care does however need to be taken as types of contributions made “in kind” as part of a family-based arrangement can sometimes affect benefit claims, such as if the other parent is paying part or all of your mortgage.
To be safe you should advise the Jobs and Benefits office of the child maintenance you are receiving.
Will Child Maintenance affect your tax?
No – you do not have to pay tax on child maintenance received.
If you are paying child maintenance there is no tax relief, so it is paid out of taxed income (the exception being if you were born before 6th April 1935!).
If you have any other questions or would like to discuss your child arrangements further, please contact us.
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