The law stipulates that the non-resident parent, i.e. the parent who does not have the child living with them on a daily basis, is responsible for maintaining the child. As it stands, generally, the person with everyday care of the child will apply for child maintenance, due to the continuing obligation on the non-resident parent to contribute financially towards the care of the child.
The prevailing emphasis for child maintenance is now on ‘family–based child maintenance arrangements’. Recourse to the Child Maintenance Service (“CMS”) should only be used when such an agreement between the parents cannot be reached or would not be appropriate. If you wish to use the CMS, you must first telephone the Child Maintenance Options phone line. They will discuss with you any alternatives to the CMS that may be available to you, including family-based arrangements.
Recent statistics released from the Department for work and pensions have shown for a period of three months, ending in September 2017, out of the 55,900 parents that had contact with the Child Maintenance Options during this period, 17% of those parents set up a family-based arrangement and 8% of them already had one in place. Out of the parents that already had a family-based arrangement in place, 85% of those parents said that it was working well for them, with the vast majority saying that they either received all or some of the agreed amount on time or usually on time. Not only do the statistics demonstrate better consistency of payments, a clear advantage of family-based arrangements, but it also eliminates the fees and charges incurred as a result of using the CMS, thus leaving more money in the ‘pot’ for the children’s needs.
If you wish to make a family-based arrangement, the Child Maintenance Options website has a pro forma arrangement, which can be downloaded at www.cmoptions.org. However, the pro forma is only a “statement of commitment” rather than a legally binding document, meaning that family-based arrangements are likely to be unenforceable in the Court. If you have concerns over non-compliance of the agreement and think that it may need to be enforced in the future, then you should consider making a consent order, which is a Court order and therefore can be enforced by the Court. Unfortunately, if you are an unmarried parent, earn less than the maximum gross income threshold set by the CMS, or your divorce has already been finalised, you will not be able to record your agreement in a consent order and therefore if you require an agreement that is enforceable, you will have to use the CMS. It should be noted that if you have your agreement for child maintenance recorded in a consent order, should a dispute arise you will have to wait one year from the date of the order to make an application to the CMS to change the amount of maintenance payable. Once one year has passed since the making of the Consent Order, the CMS will regain jurisdiction to deal with any issues in relation to child maintenance moving forward.
If you would like to know how to set up a family-based child maintenance arrangement, record an agreement reached in a consent order or have any questions relating to the payment of child maintenance, please contact Jones Nickolds on 020 3405 2300 or firstname.lastname@example.org