Since 1993 responsibility for assessing and collecting child maintenance has been taken away from the courts and handed to a government agency. The arrangements have been a mixed success and the arrangements have been revised over time.
The government’s latest attempt to reform child maintenance commenced in 2012. Child maintenance is now dealt with by the Child Maintenance Service (formerly the Child Support Agency or CSA). The key features of the current scheme are as follows:-
- The CMS has jurisdiction where the parent applying for maintenance is “resident” in the UK.
- The absent parent should also be resident in the UK save in some limited cases – just for example cases where the parent concerned works for the Armed Forces, the Diplomatic Service etc. In those cases where the CMS lacks jurisdiction – the matter can be dealt with by the courts.
- The assessment of quantum of maintenance is calculated by reference to a formula. The paying party’s gross income is established. This involves:
- Extracting data by the CMS direct from HMRC.
- For paying parents on state benefits child support is at a flat rate of £7.00 per week.
- For paying parents earning between £100.00 - £200.00 per week reduced maintenance is payable of the flat rate plus an uplift.
- For paying parents earning up to £800.00 per week payment is as follows:-
12% of earnings where there is one child
16% of earnings where there are two children
19% of earnings where there are three or more children.
- For those earning above £800.00 per week a taper is applied so that on the surplus income above the threshold child support is levied at:-
9% of the excess where there is one relevant other child.
12% of the excess where there are two relevant children.
15% of the excess where there are three or more relevant children.
- In cases where the children have overnight visits to the absent parent the level of maintenance may be “discounted” by one-seventh if the number of overnight visits exceeds 52 each year, this increases to two-sevenths if the number of overnight visits exceeds 104 nights and so on.
- It is possible for the resulting maintenance calculation to be varied in limited prescribed circumstances which include where the costs of having contact [to include travel, hotels etc] are unusually high or where there are unusual costs because of the long term illness of a child.
- Historically the use of the CMS has been free but, this is no longer the case. The government wants to encourage parties to reach their own voluntary agreements and so for those who are unable to do so the following changes apply:-
£20.00 application fee. Parents with care of the relevant child will face a 4% surcharge for use of the collection service.Non-resident parents will pay a surcharge of 20% where the collection service is used. In cases where one party has been the victim of domestic abuse they can apply for an exemption from this charge. Non-resident parents will be charged where enforcement action is required. The current charges include £50.00 where a deduction from earnings Order is made, £200.00- for a lump sum deduction Order and £300.00 for a liability Order. There is no ceiling on the collected fees chargeable.
The CMS fees may be waived for the victim where there has been domestic violence.
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