Our family law experts explain how child maintenance works, what happens when parents cannot agree an appropriate amount of child support, how to apply to the Child Maintenance Service and how child support payments will be calculated.
Child maintenance guide: how child support is calculated and what courts can order
Agreeing financial arrangements for children can be among the most difficult processes parents will go through following a divorce or the breakdown of their relationship.
The vast majority of parents only want what is best for their children. However, even when the split is an amicable one, opinions may differ on how much each person should contribute.
This guide sets out how child maintenance works and what happens when parents cannot agree an appropriate amount of child support. It explains how to apply to the Child Maintenance Service and how child support payments will be calculated. It also explains the alternative financial provisions courts have the power to order, such as transferring property to a child.
Making arrangements for children can be complex and stressful, especially following a separation. At Hamers, our Hull-based family law solicitors are sympathetic, supportive and provide the very best advice. And while we promote a non-confrontational approach to conflict resolution wherever possible, we have your best interests at heart and will always take necessary steps to protect you and your assets.
We can also offer expert advice on agreeing child arrangement orders, direct and indirect contact, child living arrangements and more following a divorce.
If you would like to discuss your options, contact our friendly team by calling 01482 326666, or fill in the form on our contact page. We are happy to arrange meetings in person at our offices in Hessle Priory Park, west Hull, or via video call.
Follow the links to jump to the relevant part of this guide:
• Child maintenance: The Child Maintenance Service, how child support is calculated and the role of the courts.
• Other financial provisions for children: transferring property and payment of lump sums.
1. Child maintenance and how it is calculated
The statutory child maintenance system has been through a period of change and the rules that apply will depend on whether there is an existing maintenance assessment or calculation, or an application is to be made for a new maintenance calculation.
Under the law relating to child support, the court is not able to make an order for child maintenance other than by consent (agreement), save where certain exceptions apply. Orders for maintenance for children made by consent are only binding for one year, after which point either parent can apply for a calculation by the Child Maintenance Service.
If you and the child’s other parent cannot agree the appropriate level of child support, the parent who lives with the child or children can apply to the Child Maintenance Service. A fee is payable, unless the applicant is under the age of 18 or the victim of domestic abuse. The predecessor to the Child Maintenance Service, the Child Support Agency, now deals only with existing maintenance assessments. Although the formulas applied to income are worked out differently depending on which scheme your family falls under, the process for determining how much the non-resident parent should be paying as child support is broadly the same, i.e.:
• Child support is assessed on a percentage of the non-resident parent’s income, depending on the number of children they have to support;
• There is a reduction of 1/7 for each night per week, averaged over a year, that the child or children stay with the paying parent;
• And, there is a reduction applied if the paying parent has any other children in their own household or if they are paying child support to more than one other parent.
The child support scheme only operates up to a certain amount of the non-resident parent’s income, which, again, differs depending on the scheme you fall under. If the non-resident parent earns more than the specified level, the court can make a top-up order under the provisions of Schedule 1 to the Children Act 1989, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 or the Civil Partnership Act 2004 depending on whether the parents are or were married or in a civil partnership (see below). In limited circumstances the courts can also make orders regarding maintenance to meet a child’s special needs attributable to a disability or for the payment of certain education or training costs. The court may also be able to make an order where a party or the child is resident abroad.
At Hamers, our family law experts will be able to assist you in working out the right arrangements.
2. What other financial provisions are available for children?
Where the parents of a child are or were married/civil partners, the courts have the power to order the transfer of property to a child or to order the payment of a lump sum of money to a child within divorce or dissolution proceedings although such orders are rarer than provision for maintenance. At Hamers, our family solicitors can advise you on whether an application under this provision may be appropriate in your case.
Under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989, a parent, step-parent, guardian, special guardian or person in relation to whom an order has been made providing that a child lives with them (a child arrangements order) may be able to apply to the court for other financial provision for a child, usually from that child’s other parent. In some cases, it may be appropriate for the application to be made by the child themselves (see below). Often, this law is used for one parent to make an application against the other when they have not been married or civil partners. In these circumstances the court does not have the wider powers it has on divorce, or the dissolution of a civil partnership, to make financial orders that consider the children’s needs outside of day-to-day maintenance that would be dealt with by the Child Maintenance Service.
At Hamers, our family lawyers can advise you on whether an application under this provision may be appropriate in your case.
3. What orders can the court make under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989?
The court can make an order providing for:
• A lump sum or sums to be paid, at once or in instalments, by one parent to the other, for example, to reimburse expenses connected with the birth and to meet future expenses such as the purchase of a family car or to pay school fees, with no limit on the number of lump sum applications that can be made;
• A property to be transferred or held in trust for the benefit of a child until a certain event occurs, for example, the child reaching the age of 18 or completing their full-time secondary or university education, when the property will either be transferred back to the payer or sold and the proceeds given back to the payer; and
• Regular payments of child maintenance where:
– The non-resident parent’s income is higher than the limit where the Child Maintenance Service deals with maintenance, or
– In respect of educational expenses, or
– For expenses connected with a child’s disability
The court can also make an interim order for child maintenance while the main application is being dealt with. Regular payments of child maintenance may, in some circumstances, include an element of ‘carer’s allowance’ for the parent with whom the child lives. The duration of the maintenance order is fixed by the court.
4. Can a child apply?
If a child is receiving, or is intending to receive instruction at an educational establishment or training, or if there are special circumstances such as a disability or illness, and the parents do not live together, a child over 18 can apply to the court for maintenance or a lump sum from one or both parents, but only where a court order providing for maintenance for that child was not in place immediately before that child reached the age of 16.
5. What is the procedure for applying to the court?
The applicant will complete a court form that is sent to the court, and then sent to the respondent, who must let the court know it has been received. After that, a court date is set and both the applicant and respondent have to complete a financial disclosure form setting out all of their financial circumstances.
6. How does the court decide what order to make?
When deciding what order to make, the court will consider:
• The income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources that each of the parents has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
• The financial needs, obligations and responsibilities that each parent has or is likely to have in the future;
• The financial needs of the child;
• The income, earning capacity (if any), property and other financial resources of the child;
• Any physical or mental disability of the child; and
• The manner in which the child was being, or is expected to be, educated or trained.
There are certain additional considerations if the person whom the application is against is not the child’s other biological parent. It is also worth remembering that the judge has a wide discretion depending on the circumstances of the case and the level of orders can be difficult to predict.
At Hamers, we offer a full range of family law services, including the very best advice on making financial arrangements for children. To ease the emotional strain of family disputes, we also offer a Hull family mediation service, which can help you take control of your situation and sort out practical matters in an open and co-operative atmosphere. Call our friendly team today on 01482 326666.
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About the author
Elizabeth Morris is a senior solicitor specialising in family law at Hamers Solicitors in Hull. Liz combines extensive experience with compassion and understanding to help clients who are often going through some of the hardest times in their lives.
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