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17 November 2014

Child Maintenance – The Current Position

Following the introduction of The Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008, a three year process of closing all Child Support Agency (CSA) cases is now underway.

Between now and 2017, letters will gradually be sent out to all parents who used the CSA informing them of the new replacement “Child Maintenance Service”, the changes it makes and charges introduced.

In addition to a £20 application fee to use the service, both parents are charged an administration fee.  The non-resident parent pays an additional 20% on top of their child maintenance payments and the other parent loses 4% of the money received.

Payments can be deducted from the non-resident parent’s salary automatically and if any enforcement measures need to be taken, the paying parent is also subject to a fixed fee.

Ministers hope that the charges will encourage parents to reach their own private arrangements by agreement or by mediation.

Family mediation is at the forefront of issues between separated parents, as there is now an expectation of couples to resolve matters and avoid court proceedings, and disputes concerning child maintenance are no exception.

Mediation can help parents come to a practical decision that best suits their circumstances.  If a parent qualifies for legal aid, then it could be free, otherwise the charges vary, however, a one off fee for mediation could work out to be a cheaper alternative to the new CMS administration fees.

Whether an agreement is reached between parents or an application is made to the CMS, the Government further plans to introduce reforms that penalise a non-resident parent who avoids paying maintenance.

From March 2015, parents who default on maintenance payments could be turned down for mortgages and credit cards.  If a parent falls so far in arrears and a court makes a “liability order”, information from the parent’s payment records could be shared with credit reference agencies.  The new powers, which are subject to parliamentary approval, aim to act as a deterrent to parents stopping child maintenance payments.

The revised service is much more robust than its predecessor and it is hoped that the new rules will encourage parties to agree matters between them.  It is clear that the Government appears to be determined to tackle parents who do not support their children and if a party does not pay maintenance, they could face serious consequences.

For further information on children matters please contact our family team.