What is child maintenance?
Child maintenance is an amount of money that is paid regularly by the parent who may not have full-time care of a child to the parent who does. This money should contribute to the child’s living and maintenance costs including food, clothes, accommodation and hygiene.
Ideally, both parents should work together to come to an agreement that works for them and their children. This could include sharing the care of the child/children or buying items for them directly. This is known as a family-based arrangement.
Sometimes when there has been a difficult separation or divorce, parents may dispute over the amount of money which should be paid for child maintenance.
Child Maintenance Disputes
Paying child maintenance for your child is a legal responsibility.
If you are unable to agree on the amount of child maintenance, you will need to make an application to the Child Maintenance Service.
You can either use the Direct Pay Scheme or authorise the Child Maintenance Service to collect maintenance at the source.
The Direct Pay Scheme is a way of avoiding the Child Maintenance Service administration charges.
If you are unsure about how much Child Maintenance should be paid, you can use the online Child Maintenance Service calculator to find out how much Child Maintenance should be paid.
Child Maintenance Court Orders
The court has limited powers to make orders for child maintenance. An order for child maintenance can only be made by the court when:
- Parents are agreed on the level of maintenance payable. However, after a period of 12 months, either parent can apply for a formal assessment from the Child Maintenance Service as the order is not effective after 12 months;
- There is to be an order for educational expenses including school fees and expenses directly related to education and training school fees order;
- There are disabled children the court can consider expenses associated with a child’s disability such as additional help, running a car
- There are children whose parent lives overseas;
- The paying parent’s income is so high that it exceeds the maximum amount that the Child Maintenance Service can collect. If a maximum assessment is made by the Child Maintenance Service, the parent with care can apply to the court for a “top up” order for child maintenance.
When the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) will not get involved
The CMS does not have jurisdiction in the following cases, so the court retains jurisdiction for :
- Stepchildren provided that the parents were married
- Children over the age of 20 who remain in education or where other special circumstances apply
- The paying parent or child lives outside the jurisdiction; The child is of university age;
- There is a claim for school fees;
- There are children who have a disability;
- The paying parent has a very high income.
What if the Child Maintenance Service get it wrong?
You can contact the CMS and set out the details of your complaint. If you are still unsatisfied, then make a formal complaint to the complaints service at the CMS.
If the complaints service does not resolve your complaint satisfactorily, you can ask the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) to review your complaint.
If, after exhausting all these routes, you are still dissatisfied, it may be possible for you to seek compensation through the courts. The CMS has produced guidance on whether compensation should be paid.
Further financial provision for children
There are a range of court orders available under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 which protect the interests of children whose parents are unmarried. These are listed below.
- Periodical payments
- Secured periodical payments
- Lump sum
- Settlement of property
- Transfer of property
“Top-up” child maintenance
If the paying parent’s gross income is more than £3000 per week, you will need to apply for a maximum assessment to the CMS. If a maximum assessment is made, you can then apply under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 for a “top up” child maintenance order.
It may be possible for children in university education to make applications in their own right under Schedule 1, for financial assistance for university expenses.
This can include payments to renovate and adapt a house, provision for a car or for another specific item. There can be multiple applications and you are not limited to making one single application.
Transfer of property/ Settlement of property
You can apply for an order for housing provision for yourself and your child. You are limited to one single application. Usually, the property is not transferred outright to you, but you are provided with rent-free housing during the child’s minority. Generally, the house reverts to the other parent, once the child reaches majority.
You can apply for an order for costs against the other parent. This assists those parents who have no other means to pursue a claim.
What will the court look at when assessing your claim?
- The financial needs of your child;
- The income and earning capacity (if any), property and other financial resources of your child;
- Any physical or mental disability of your child;
- How you, as parents, intended to educate your child;
- Each of your respective earning capacities, property and other financial resources; and
- Each of your respective current and future financial needs, obligations and responsibilities.
In addition to your potential claims under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989, you may also have a potential claim against your ex-partner for capital provision under The Trust of Land & Appointment of Trustees Act 1996. Further information is available at Property Rights for Unmarried Couples.