If you have a child and you and your partner are separated, child maintenance is financial support that you pay towards the cost of your child’s everyday living expenses. There are several ways to arrange it: between you and your ex-partner by yourselves, or by using the child maintenance service.
CSA child maintenance agreements
Any child maintenance arrangements are dealt with by the Child Maintenance Service. The Child Support Agency only handles cases that already exist. Any arrangements made through the CSA will be ending between now and 2017.
Eligibility for Child Maintenance
Child maintenance is designed for children who are either:
- Under 16
- Under 20 and are in full time education but not higher than A Level or equivalent.
- Under 20 and living with a parent who has registered for child benefit on their behalf.
You can apply for child maintenance if you are:
- The parent that the child lives with
- The parent that the child doesn’t live with.
- A grandparent/other guardian of the child.
- A child over 12 in Scotland.
You cannot apply if the ‘receiving’ parent and child live outside of the UK. To differentiate, the receiving parent cares for the child day-to-day, whilst the paying parent does not.
Arranging Child Support yourself
If both parents agree, you can arrange child maintenance yourself. This is known as a ‘family based agreement’ and is a private way to sort out child support. The parents arrange everything by themselves and no outside parties have to be involved. This form of support is flexible and means that it can be changed if necessary due to circumstances. The parents agree how much the payments should be and when they should be paid- it is not a formal agreement but should be written down in case of future disagreement.
An example of a family based agreement could be:
- The paying parent pays for school uniform, school trips and a regular payment for everyday living costs.
It is important to note that this form of arrangement isn’t legally binding but if you encounter problems, you can apply to make it so that it is.
If you can’t agree on an arrangements
You can get the Child Maintenance Service to collect payments on behalf of your child if you and your ex partner cannot agree. This is known as a ‘statutory arrangement’ and you will have to pay a fee to arrange it this way.
You may need to use the Child Maintenance Service in circumstances of:
- Not knowing where the other parent lives.
- Disagreements about parentage.
- Disagreements over how much child maintenance should be paid.
- Arrange payments from the paying parents.
- Pass payments on to the receiving payments.
- Review the payments when a change in circumstances is reported.
- Review payment amounts year on year.
- Take action if payments are not made.
In June 2014, the Child Maintenance Service introduced application fees and enforcement charges. You will have to pay the fees for collecting and paying out child maintenance.
If you choose to use the ‘collect and pay’ service, where the child maintenance service collects the money from the paying parent via wages or benefits and passes it onto the receiving parent, you will have to pay a fee each time you make or receive a payment. Paying parents will pay a 20% fee on top of their regular payments and receiving parents will have 4% taken off what they receive.
If you choose a family-based arrangement you do not have to pay any fees.
If for some reason, the paying parent does not pay their child maintenance, the service will firstly find out why the payment has not been made, arrange for them to pay and lastly warn them of action that may be taken if they do not pay. In 2014, enforcement charges were brought in for lack of payments:
Liability order £300
Lump sum deduction order £200
Regular deduction order £50
Deduction from earnings request or order £50
They can also enforce payments in three ways:
- Take money from a parents wages or earnings, by telling their employer how much to take.
- Take money from a bank account, by telling the bank to do so.
- Take court action, by sending bailiffs or in extreme cases, prison.
When making a new arrangement, your first port of call is to talk to the Child Maintenance Options team. If you apply, you will need to have to hand:
- Details about the child you are applying on behalf of: including full names of their parents.
- Your national insurance number.
- Your bank account details.
The application fee costs £20, but you don’t have to pay if you are under 19, live in Northern Ireland or a victim of domestic violence.
Your information will be used to set up and manage payments. If your information is not adequate, the service may contact the paying parents employer, Government organisations such as the Job Centre Plus, prison services or the paying parents bank account to get information.
Most cases are fully set up within a month, but can take longer if there was a problem in contacting the paying parent. The first payment is usually made within 6 weeks of making payment arrangements.
Changes you need to report
Either parent should tell the service if:
The paying parent’s income changes.
You wish to close the case.
There is a change to the number of nights that the paying parent cares for the child.
The paying parent must report:
- Moving house.
- Start/stop getting benefits.
- Changing your phone number.
- Employment details.
- If you become self employed.
- If you become unemployed.
The receiving parent must report:
- Any changes to the number of children living with you.
- A child leaves for full time education or reaches the age of 20.
- You’re moving house.
- Your phone number changes.
If you do not give the right information you could be taken to court or pay a fine of up to £1000.