Bringing up children is an expensive business even where the parents are together and have one another to financially rely upon. When parents separate, they are usually left trying to run two separate households from income that once only had to service one family and usually, one parent will look to the other for help towards the cost of raising their children.
Many people still refer to the Child Support Agency (or the CSA). The CSA was replaced by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) in 2013 and it is now the CMS that deals with calculating, collecting and enforcing child maintenance.
In the first instance, parents are encouraged to reach their own agreement on a suitable level of child maintenance without the need to formally instruct the CMS to deal with that particular case. There is a service known as Child Maintenance Options who give impartial information to each parent about child maintenance. Only if an agreement cannot be reached should the CMS be asked to deal with the case. This really should be used as a last resort because using the CMS comes with its own cost. In particular, the person who seeks child maintenance will have to pay an initial £20.00 fee for the CMS to calculate how much maintenance should be paid. If the person who is going to receive the maintenance also needs the CMS to collect it from the other parent then the CMS will deduct 7% from the maintenance that is payable before the balance is passed on to the receiving parent.
The person receiving the child maintenance is not the only one who is penalised. The parent who is paying the child maintenance also has to pay an additional 20% to the CMS by way of a handling fee for them to deal with the case. It could therefore be argued that in many cases, parents and more importantly children will be better off if an agreement can be reached without the CMS being involved.
Even where the CMS is involved that does not necessarily mean that the parent claiming maintenance will receive it. Earlier this year the government announced that there is £3.9billion outstanding in child maintenance arrears and they anticipate that only £1billion of that figure will ever be recovered. Parents who neglect their child maintenance obligations can face serious repercussions, including having a charging order placed against their property which could ultimately result in it being sold; they could have their assets seized; have their driving license confiscated for up to 2 years, have money taken directly from their wages or even be put in prison.
Whilst many parents who separate feel some degree of acrimony towards one another it is important that the needs of any children are always put first and that parents consider both the financial and emotional consequences of their actions. If you are having difficulty with children issues following a separation you should consult a specialist family lawyer for advice.
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