Child Maintenance – the impact of Covid19

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Parents are responsible for the costs of bringing up their children, this will not change during the  Covid19 pandemic. When parents separate, there is an obligation on the parents to provide financial support for their children. The parent who the children live with most of the time will be entitled to child maintenance payments.

Parents are encouraged to agree maintenance by reference to what they may be required to pay if they went through the formulaic approach of the Child Maintenance Service (“CMS” formerly the CSA). This is an informal agreement which is not legally binding so if the paying parent is not keeping up the payments you cannot enforce the agreement through the Courts.

If you cannot reach an agreement, then you can approach the CMS who will undertake an assessment based on the paying parent’s income and other factors such as how many children they are responsible for. You can use their assessment free of charge but if you need to use the CMS to collect the payments there is a charge of 20% on the paying party and 4% on the receiving party. The fees are high to encourage parties to agree.

The Court has limited powers to make child maintenance orders and so you are forced to use the CMS, unless you satisfy one of the exemptions below:-

  • If the paying party earns more than £156,000 a year;
  • The paying parent lives outside of the UK; or
  • You have further expenses for education or disability needs.

What does the above mean in practical terms: –

  • If you had an informal agreement with the other parent and you can no longer afford to keep up the payments, then you need to let them know as soon as possible. Be as open as you can about your financial position and what you might be able to contribute. You may be able to help out in other ways until such time as you are able to start contributing more financially. Use the CMS online calculator to work out how much they would require you to pay in light of your reduced income. Do not stop paying without communicating with the other parent.
  • If you are already dealing with payments through the CMS, the paying parent is able to request a recalculation if their income changes by 25%. If the paying party is furloughed on 80% or more of their salary they will be expected to continue to pay in full. If you stop paying, arrears will accrue.  If you are self-isolating and as a result you have either lost your job or have had to go onto sick pay you need to update the CMS. Your payments may be recalculated as a result.
  • If you are paying child maintenance as the result of a court order that was made less than 12 months ago and you stop making maintenance payments without an order or consent of the other party, then you will be in breach of the order. This could result in return court proceedings to force you to pay. It is better to communicate your situation as soon as possible rather than just stop the payments. If you are not on good terms with the other parent, then you can instruct solicitors to negotiate and if that does not result in an agreement you need to apply to the court to vary the order.
  • If you have been receiving regular payments via the CMS and your child is not living with you due to Covid19 you must update the CMS and a recalculation could occur and you may receive less money.

Speak to our Family Team today

This is a complex area and parents are always encouraged to take legal advice. IBB Law’s family law practice can provide expert advice on all aspects of divorce and separation, and other family law issues. To contact the family law team please email familylaw@ibblaw.co.uk or call 03456 381381.