Child maintenance obligations of parents following divorce
Divorce can be a messy and difficult process to endure and the process can be even more complicated in cases where children are involved. The family court regards the well-being of any child extremely seriously and undertakes their duty to protect children competently and properly.
In accordance with the Children Act 1989, a child’s welfare is the court’s paramount consideration and as such, the family court has a legal duty to ensure that any decision made relating to a child positively impacts the child’s well-being and future. In line with this duty, parents can sometimes be required to make child maintenance payments to assist with the expenses and welfare of a child.
What is child maintenance?
It is common knowledge that parents are deemed to be responsible for the financial costs and expenses of raising their children. Following a divorce, it may be required that the non-resident parent provides the resident parent with maintenance payments to cover the costs of their child living with one parent. Essentially, although a child may live with one parent (the resident parent), the financial responsibility should be shared equally between both parents.
Maintenance arrangements can be made privately between both parents following a divorce by way of a family-based arrangement form. This means that both parents will need to reach an agreement on what the cost of raising their child/ren will be and as such, how much the non-resident parent will need to make in terms of maintenance payments.
If you require legal assistance and guidance on the most suitable child maintenance arrangement to suit your circumstances, contact us for a confidential discussion on your matter.
As expected, this is not always an easy decision to reach as both parents may have different ideas and expectations in relation to how much it will cost to raise their child. As a result, in cases where there is difficulty in reaching an agreement, some choose to utilise the government schemes, also known as statutory schemes. There were previously three main schemes however, the main scheme is now referred to as the Child Maintenance Service. This is for all new applicants who were not able to successfully make a private arrangement however, there is a fee for the application to the sum of £20.00.
Once an application is made, the Child Maintenance Service will assess the income of the parent who will be paying child maintenance, following which they will apply the relevant rate based on the weekly income of the paying parent.
Parents also have the opportunity to make an application to the family court for child maintenance. Once an agreement is reached during a divorce or dissolution about child maintenance, the court will be able to convert this agreement into a consent order. It is important to note that the Children Act 1989 allows parents to make an application to the family court for not only maintenance payments but also a lump sum.
It should be noted, however, that once the consent order has been in place for 12 months, the parents have the option to opt-out of the consent order and utilise the services provided by the Child Maintenance Service.
When the family court is involved in the process of assisting parents with child maintenance, the court will have regard to the income and earning ability of both parents as well as the financial needs of the child in conjunction with the physical and psychological state of the child. Although the family court is willing to assist parents with such disputes, parents are still expected to try and resolve their dispute surrounding child maintenance between themselves. As a result, a parent can only make an application to the court, once both parents have attended a Family Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting.
What are the consequences of not making child maintenance payments as required?
If the parents of a child decide to rely on the Child Maintenance Service and the non-resident parent ceases payment, there are enforcement charges against the non-resident parent for failing to keep up with payments.
When a payment is initially missed, the Child Maintenance Service will contact the parent in an attempt to ascertain the reason for the missed payment. If however, the Child Maintenance Service does not receive a response, then the non-resident parent could be subject to deduction orders which means that a sum between £50.00 to £200.00 can be deducted from earnings or benefits.
Where an order has been made by the family court for a non-resident parent to make payments and it is not complied with, the non-resident parent may be deemed to be in contempt of court and may also be liable to a fine and/or imprisonment.
If you are in the process of discussing child maintenance arrangements and require further guidance, please contact us and our dedicated team of family law specialists can assist you in reaching the most viable agreement for both parties.