Do-it yourself? The new child maintenance regime
The Child Support Agency (CSA) will be an organisation of whom most readers of this article will already be aware, and have an idea of its’ general purpose; namely the assessment, collection and enforcement of child maintenance payments between separated parents.
What may be less common knowledge is that there have been quite fundamental changes to CSA, and how it operates.
What has changed?
For one it has changed its name. It is now operating as the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) in all new cases.
The calculation of maintenance is different. While the CSA calculated the payment based on a percentage of net income, the CMS calculates the payment based on a lower percentage of gross income. The new scheme is intended to produce broadly similar outcomes to the old scheme, and an online calculator is available here: https://www.gov.uk/calculate-your-child-maintenance.
The most significant difference is use of the service itself. Whilst the CSA operated on a fairly straightforward referral and at no cost to the parents, the CMS very much tries to encourage parties to agree matters between themselves.
What option to choose?
Parties will have the following choices:
- Family Based Arrangements;
- Maintenance Direct and Direct Pay;
- Collect and Pay
- Court order
The CMS expects parties to agree their own payment arrangements, or Family Based Arrangement. A calculator is available, though most parents will utilise the CMS because they cannot agree the figure between themselves. If a Family Based Arrangement is agreed, this figure is likely to prove binding.
Where agreement is not possible, either the CMS can assess the liability to pay, and the parents deal with the actual payment themselves (Maintenance Direct and Direct Pay), or, the CMS can collect and pay the payment for the parents (Collect and Pay).
Applicants now must have a “Gatekeeping” interview prior to CMS involvement. Controversially, there are now charges for these services; £20 for an assessment, and a 20% surcharge for the payer, and a 4% deduction from the payment for the recipient. These charges are intended to encourage parties to deal with the matter between themselves if at all possible.
Can a court still make child maintenance orders?
Court orders for child maintenance can be made. This has not changed. Most child maintenance orders are made where the parties agree, as an extra to the CMS calculation, for example, school fees.
Many separated parents are reliant on child maintenance payments, and thus need to ensure payment is at the correct level, as do those making payment. With the ongoing cost of CMS based collection and payment, it is clearly more desirable to come to a voluntary agreement that will be adhered to in all cases.
The family team at Whitehead Monckton have a wealth of experience providing guidance and advice in all areas relating to family law including child maintenance.
If you have a query about child maintenance, please contact a member of the Family Team.