Arranging effective child maintenance
*NOTE* From 2014 the CSA will begin to end child maintenance arrangements on its 1993 and 2003 schemes. Read more about the changes to child maintenance *
Arranging effective child maintenance
If you’re separating from your child’s other parent then child maintenance will be one of many things you have to sort out. But it’s an issue that’s really important in giving your children the best start in life.
You may be facing legal issues, worries about where you’ll live and how separation could affect your work, for example. You may also feel that you’ve lost control of your money, with a new set of financial circumstances making demands on your wallet or purse.
But nearly all separated parents – nine out of ten – agree that both parents should pay towards the upkeep of their children. And as most parents want what’s best for their children, regardless of the circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that so many separated mothers and fathers put sorting out child maintenance at the top of their “to-do” list.
Studies show that children benefit from regular, reliable, financial support from both parents. It helps towards their everyday living costs and can make a significant difference to their quality of life.
It also helps to improve and maintain the quality of a child’s family relationships. Making and keeping to an agreement that everyone is happy with removes one of the biggest potential sources of conflict between you and your child’s other parent. And building a new co-parenting relationship can be difficult enough without any extra barriers in your way.
Child maintenance often involves an agreement where the parent without main day-to-day care of a child gives money to the parent with the main caring role. It can, however, be much more flexible. The important thing is to find the kind of arrangement that best suits everyone involved.
You don’t have to use the Child Support Agency (CSA) to arrange child maintenance. Many families now have arrangements in place that they’ve set up themselves.
And child maintenance doesn’t have to mean just paying money. There can be other important things involved.
You’ll find more information about this and other options below. For more help call Child Maintenance Options free on 0800 988 0988* or visit the website at www.cmoptions.org .
Family-based arrangements are agreements between both parents about who will provide what for a child. They don’t have to be just about exchanging money – the other parent could, for example, agree to provide school uniforms..
The main benefits of family arrangements are that they’re quick and easy to set up. They’re also completely private, meaning that no-one else needs to get involved in your arrangements.
Child Maintenance Options can talk you through all aspects of a family arrangement and has a range of tools to help you get started. You’ll find more information at www.cmoptions.org.
If your family arrangement doesn’t work out or if you can’t make a family arrangement you can ask the CSA or the courts to set up an arrangement for you.
Maintenance Direct is a payment option offered by the CSA that lets you keep control of making and receiving payments. The CSA works out the payment amounts for you but won’t involve themselves in other areas, like collecting the payments and enforcement, unless you ask them to.
It is often a good option for parents who can trust each other to stick to the agreed payments but who are having trouble agreeing or talking about how much those payments should be.
CSA collection service
The CSA offers a full calculation, collection, payment and enforcement service for parents who can’t make a family arrangement work.
If you apply to the CSA for this service they will gather information from both parents and use it to work out how much child maintenance the parent without the main day-to-day care of the child will need to pay to the other parent. If payments aren’t made on time, the CSA can take a range of enforcement actions to collect them.
It may be the best option where there is the risk of domestic violence or abuse between parents.
A Consent Order
A consent order is an order made by a court that makes an agreement between two parties legally binding. For child maintenance, courts can make a consent order (or in Scotland you or your solicitor can register a minute of agreement in the Books of Council and Session held within Registers of Scotland) which says that the parent without the main day-to-day care of the child must keep to the child maintenance payments that you have agreed, either between yourselves or through solicitors.
It is usually only the best option if you are going to court for other reasons (like arranging a divorce or dividing property or other assets), as putting a consent order or minute of agreement in place does involve legal costs. In England and Wales legal aid won’t usually cover these costs.
If you live in Scotland, court orders are slightly different. After you’ve made your family arrangement - with a solicitor’s help, if needed – you can make it a contract called a Minute of Agreement. You can then register this for preservation and execution to make it legally binding and enforceable should the agreement not be adhered to.Visit cmoptions.org.uk to find out more.
Find out more
These are just some of your choices for child maintenance. Find out more at cmoptions.org or talk to a child maintenance expert free by calling Child Maintenance Options on 0800 988 0988*.
* Call charges
Calls to 0800 numbers are free from BT landlines but you may have to pay if you use another phone company, a mobile phone, or if you are calling from abroad. Calls from mobile phones can cost up to 40p per minute - check the cost of calls with your service provider.