Child Maintenance Reforms

In December 2012, the amendments made by the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 came into force for new applications made on or after 10 December 2012 where there were four or more qualifying children. On the 29th July 2013, this was extended to new applicants with two or more children, who have the same two parents and where there is no existing child support case in respect of those children with the Child Support Agency (CSA).

The 2008 Act amends the statutory scheme for calculation, collection and enforcement of child support maintenance which was originally set out in the Child Support Act 1991, as amended by the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000.

The new and improved statutory service, named the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), will gradually replace the CSA. The CMS is designed to be a safety net for difficult cases where parents are unable to work things out between themselves; it uses enforcement fines to encourage parents to pay what they owe. The new service will also charge a small upfront fee and have ongoing collection charges for both parents to encourage collaboration. Alternatively, parents can avoid the ongoing collection charges altogether by opting to use a service called Direct Pay.

Once the CMS is fully up and running, all separated families currently in the CSA will be given a fresh start as their cases are gradually closed from next year over a three year period; they will be offered help and support to come to their own financial arrangements. The new system is said to be easier to use and for the first time HMRC wage data is being used to calculate payments. In contrast to the older scheme, we move from net to gross income, with child support being calculated by reference to a set percentage depending on the number of children. Another key development is that under this new scheme, there will be no child support payable if care of the children is truly shared by the parents and as per the older scheme, where the “Parent who Pays” has staying contact with the children, maintenance will be reduced depending on the number of nights the children stay with that parent.

The Government is determined to avoid the mistakes of the past when the previous schemes were launched too quickly and for too many clients. This gradual introduction allows for the 2012 scheme to operate effectively and efficiently before it is opened to all clients. Only time will tell how effective and efficient the new scheme proves to be in encouraging families to come to their own arrangements and in assisting those who are unable to work things out.

This article is written by Ipek Bekir, Head of the Family department at Lester Dominic Solicitors.

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