Any family breakdown is a difficult time for a family and one of the most contentious issues is often the financial arrangements to be agreed. Families need to be aware that the statutory system for ensuring child maintenance is paid is undergoing radical reform. The DWP is now responsible for administering this scheme and has set up the Child Maintenance Service to help people in these circumstances.
What has changed?
The responsibility for helping with child maintenance has, since 2012 been with the DWP and the regulations around this have changed, the old CSA is now closed and new cases are dealt with through the Child Maintenance Service. CSA will continue to manage existing cases from the 1993 and 2003 schemes but these cases will be transferred to the new system in due course. If you have an existing Child Support Agency case you do not need to do anything different until they get in touch about ending your arrangement and this could be any time over a 3 year period starting in 2014.
What is child maintenance?
It is a regular reliable support that helps towards your child’s everyday living costs and usually means one parent paying the other for their child’s upkeep but BOTH parents are responsible for financially supporting their children. In most cases the parent who does not have the main day to day care of the child pays child maintenance to the parent who does have that care. Parents can agree to work together and set up their own family based arrangement rather than use the statutory child maintenance scheme managed through the Child Maintenance Service.
Where do we get advice and help?
If you want information and advice about child maintenance you should now either visit www.cmoptions.org or www.sortingoutseparation.org.uk or phone 0800 988 0988 for more information and advice. There are calculators and leaflets and free webchat services available through these contact points. You can also visit or call your local Citizens Advice Bureau.
Options for separating families
Ideally a family based voluntary arrangement allows parents to be flexible and in control of arrangements. There are tools and advice to help you with this on the website and also through other organisations, including CAB. These arrangements are not legally binding, but if you use the form available on www.cmoptions.org it could help you keep to what has been agreed. The emphasis under these new arrangements is very much on helping a family to work together to reach a mutually agreed arrangement. There are other legal methods of arranging child maintenance such as a consent order through the courts which is legally binding and legal advice should be sought to arrange this. There are legal costs to pay for arranging this and for enforcement, should it fail.
When does the Child Maintenance Service become involved?
If a family needs to involve the help of the statutory scheme the Child Maintenance service will manage the application and parents need to be aware that there may be charges introduced shortly for using the service. If a family based arrangement is not possible, parents can apply to the service (proposed charge £20 for the application except where the parents are under 18 or there has been Domestic Abuse in the relationship) and the service will work out the amount of child maintenance that must be paid based on the non resident parent’s disposable income and personal circumstances. If the paying parent is not in paid work and is on certain benefits the flat rate will be £7 per week and this payment could be deducted directly from benefits.
There are two ways of paying:
Direct pay: where the Child Maintenance Service works out what is payable and the parents work out how these payments are arranged.
If payments are not made the case transfers to:
Collect and Pay: The CMS collects the payments and passes them on to the receiving parent. There are charges being proposed for this service. A 20% fee is charged to the paying parent by being added to each payment collected. There will be further charges if enforcement action has to be taken.
It is in the family’s interest to try to come to a sustainable arrangement without involving the statutory scheme if at all possible or use the Direct Pay method to keep costs to a minimum.