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Child Maintenance

Our People - Loretta Orsi-Barzanti
3 February, 2022

Child Maintenance is and has always been one of the hottest topics in family disputes. I can’t think of a single other topic which causes more disagreements and animosity when parents separate.

The parent looking after the children is often, but NOT always, the children’s mother. The paying parent is often, but not always, the parents father. To be clear, there are a great number of paying parents who meet their children’s financial needs with grace and without having to be asked. That’s brilliant – of course it is!

Understandably, how much maintenance should be paid and how regularly, is often a bone of contention.

As a parent myself, children’s needs are far ranging – physical, emotional, psychological … the list is endless. But to be able to meet those needs, there needs to be the money available to do so.

The cost of living in general, quite apart from when there are children involved, is through the roof!!

Money isn’t everything, but it certainly helps.

Imagine … you are a single parent. Kids are in school. You’re working part-time. Your income is average. You have rent to pay, shopping to buy, school uniforms to get, shoes, bills, council tax and let’s not forget the things children “want”. The other parent is also working. They see the children once or twice a week. But they are not contributing financially. You’re probably already going without to make sure that your kids have what they need. How. On. Earth. Do. You. Do it???

You’ve asked them to pay. They refuse. Their income has magically deteriorated to next to nothing, because, they work for themselves now and “work’s dried up”, even when they’ve turned up to collect the kids in their brand new Range Rover.

On the flip side, you’re the paying parent – you are paying what you can afford, working all the hours, you have bills of your own and you’re trying to keep your head above water but your ex has made ridiculous and unreasonable demands of child maintenance which exceed over half of your take home pay. You pay what you can and its more than what the CMS say you should pay. Its not good enough for your ex and now they’ve suddenly stopped you seeing the kids.

Sounds like I’ve made it up, doesn’t it? I haven’t. These problems are absolutely rife. I see them every day.

Much of this article is to let you know that whatever side of the (child maintenance) coin you fall  upon, you are not alone and to point you in the right direction of what to do.

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) is the organisation which deals with child maintenance issues when there is a dispute. You can approach the CMS at any time and open up a claim. Do this as soon as you can. It’s important – because you can’t backdate a claim for child maintenance, but once the claim is open you can claim any arrears from the date the claim was made.

There is a very specific calculation that the CMS carries out to work out how much the non-resident parent should be paying.  You can calculate your child maintenance on the UK Gov website.

There are issues in the way it can be calculated. The calculation is based on the amount of income which the paying party is receiving. If they are in a “cash-in-hand” job then this obviously causes issues. They aren’t declaring (all of) their income and so their income for the purposes of the calculation is artificially lower than it should be.

It is also calculated after deductions for pension contributions – I’ve seen people increase their pension contributions to astronomical levels just to reduce child maintenance payments. Yes….i am rolling my eyes at you.

If you know the paying parent is trying to side-step paying child maintenance for whatever reason, there are a few things you can do. I say this with the caveat that it doesn’t always work, especially if they are super-sneaky. Gather as much evidence as you can regarding the income that the paying parent is receiving. Find out where they are working. Make sure you have their current address and contact details. Don’t put yourself in danger to get this information.

Once the calculation is complete, the CMS can help you in collecting the maintenance you are owed. Theres a fee (taken from the maintenance) but it saves you the aggravation of trying to collect it yourself.

If the paying parent doesn’t pay, the CMS can help collect the arrears in child maintenance from the other parent’s earnings, benefits, or bank or building society account. 

If that doesn’t work then the CMS can apply to court for a ‘liability order’. If successful they can ask bailiffs to take goods and sell them. 

If the paying parent owns their home, the CMS can ask a court for an order to sell it and use the money to pay the arrears. If that doesn’t cover it then the CMS can ask the court to consider taking the paying parent’s passport or driving licence away of sending them to prison.

You CANNOT make a claim to court for child maintenance unless the CMS does not have jurisdiction, the order you are seeking for is for educational expenses or costs attributable to a disability and top up orders, or you have agreed maintenance in a consent order.

If you are paying but your ex is demanding more – get advice from a solicitor about what you should be paying. Keep a record of what you are paying. Don’t pay in cash. Pay by bank transfer and put a reference on it confirming it is child maintenance.

If you are the parent needing child maintenance, I urge you to speak with the CMS and open a claim with them, regardless of what you may or may not be paid.

And, if you are the “paying” parent and aren’t currently paying, I urge you to start paying.

Get legal advice on what you should be paying and start. Your children depend on it.

And to those paying parents who pay on time, every month, expecting nothing in return in the knowledge that you are supporting your children they way they should be supported. You’re doing amazing!

And finally, to the parents, doing it on their own, with no support from the other parent, financial or otherwise, raising children and making something of themselves. You are the rock stars. You have everyone’s respect, and particularly and most importantly the respect of your children. Now and always.

Head of Family (Private Law)
Loretta Orsi-Barzanti is an associate solicitor and head of our Private Family Team. She advises on all aspects of Public and Private Law.

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