Separating from a spouse or partner is always difficult, and the situation is made even harder when children are involved.
At Larcomes, we always prioritise children’s welfare when advising parents on child law matters and seek to find a solution to any given situation in a conciliatory way with minimum disruption to a child.
Money is a notoriously touchy subject, and discussions about financial matters between ex-spouses can be extremely difficult. When partners separate, they both remain legally responsible for the financial costs of bringing up a child, regardless of how frequently they see them.
However, agreeing on an appropriate level of child maintenance and enforcing any agreement can be tricky, and it is always best to seek specialist legal advice. Our experienced child law solicitors at Larcomes can help with any child support issues you may face and will ensure the process is as smooth and stress-free as possible for you and your children.
In this blog, our Child Care lawyers answer some common questions about child maintenance arrangements with an ex-partner.
What is Child Maintenance?
Child maintenance (or ‘child support’) is regular financial support made from one parent to another following a separation or divorce to help cover the costs of raising a child.
It is usually paid by the parent who does not live with the child (the ‘paying parent’) and is made to the parent responsible for a child’s day-to-day care (the ‘receiving parent’).
Child support payments are designed to cover everyday living expenses for a child, such as food, housing and clothing. They must be made for children up to the age of 16 or for children under the age of 20 and still in full-time education not higher than A-Level.
How do you agree on Child Maintenance payments?
Separated parents can agree on child maintenance arrangements in three main ways. These are:
- Some separating couples can agree on child support payments with their former partner directly or can reach an agreement with the help of a solicitor or mediator. This is known as a ‘family-based’ arrangement. Arrangements for child maintenance made in this way are not legally enforceable. If the paying parent decides to change or stop their maintenance payments, you cannot force them to stick to the original agreement.
- Through a Consent Order from a Court. A Consent Order is an official ruling made by a court and makes an agreement legally binding. Before applying to the Court, both parents need to agree on how much child maintenance will be paid and how often.
- Through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). If parents cannot agree, they can apply to the government-led CMS, which will decide on the appropriate level of child support payments.
Agreeing on and arranging an appropriate level of child support can be complicated, and every set of circumstances are different. Separating partners should take specialist legal advice from an experienced child support solicitor before entering into any arrangement so that you fully understand your options.
How is Child Maintenance calculated?
If you are making a private agreement, you don’t have to follow any rules about calculating child maintenance and can include anything you want, as long as you both agree.
Questions to consider include whether you want to pay a fixed, regular amount or vary the payments to allow for specific events, what you want the payments to cover, whether you want the payments to be a percentage of earnings or a set amount, and how frequently payments should be made. The child maintenance calculator on the government’s website is a useful starting point.
If you apply to the CMS for a child support agreement, they will take the following factors into account when calculating the level of contributions the paying parent must make:
- The paying parent’s income level.
- The number of children you have.
- The amount of time children spend with the paying parent.
- Whether the paying parent is supporting any other children.
The CMS uses this information to determine how much child maintenance should be paid per week. There are five rates of maintenance: default, nil, flat, reduced, or basic, and the rate paid depends on the paying parent’s circumstances.
You can find out more on the government’s website by clicking here.
Can I change a Child Maintenance agreement?
Yes, child maintenance agreements can be updated if a parent’s circumstances change. How you change an existing order depends on how it was made originally.
If you and your partner made an informal family-based arrangement, you can change a child maintenance arrangement by having further conversations with your ex-partner to negotiate a new deal that you are both happy with.
For arrangements made legally enforceable through a Consent Order, you can apply to change the Order. However, this needs to be by agreement of both parties and recorded in a further Consent Order or by application to the Court. This can be a complicated process, and if this is something you are considering, you should seek legal advice first.
If the CMS made your child maintenance order, you must inform them of any relevant changes in your circumstances that might affect your payments so they can re-assess your situation and re-evaluate accordingly.
Child Support Lawyer Near Me
Child care law requires specialist legal expertise. If you have an issue that you need to discuss with one of our nationally recognised child care lawyers, contact Larcomes today.
We realise that you may be contacting us during a difficult time and whatever your child care matter is concerning or however complex it may be, we are here to help.
You can talk to us in complete confidence and gain reassurance from speaking to someone who understands your situation.
Please note that this article is not intended as legal or professional advice. It is for general guidance only, and updates to the law may have changed since it was published.