When two people with children make the decision to separate, they are entering unknown territory. Child maintenance is one area that can cause a tremendous amount of confusion and parents often come to me with various preconceptions about it. If you’re not sure what the facts are, then hopefully the next top ten myth busting facts might help.
Myth 1 – I am only required to pay child maintenance until my child reaches 18 years of age
False – as long as your child is in full time secondary education (no higher than A-Levels) then child maintenance is payable up to the maximum age of 20. For example, if your child is 18, doesn’t achieve the grades they wanted to at A Level and decide to re-sit Year 13 then maintenance is still payable and won’t stop until either they leave full time education or they turn 20 years of age, whichever is the sooner. You may also be able to claim child maintenance for your child who is in further education but this would be through the court process.
Myth 2 – all my salary is taken into account when calculating child maintenance
False – the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) considers the gross income of the paying parent (i.e. income before tax and national insurance contributions have been deducted). This includes bonuses and dividends however this is after any occupational pension contributions have been deducted.
Myth 3 – I do not see my child so I don’t need to pay any maintenance for them
False – the amount of time a parent spends with their children does not impact upon the obligation to pay child maintenance.
Myth 4 – I share the care of my children equally with my ex-partner so I do not need to pay any child maintenance
False – if the care of a child is shared exactly between parents i.e.182.5 days/nights of the year each, then strictly speaking there is no liability for child maintenance. However, if one parent can show they are still undertaking responsibility for the children’s day-to-day routines i.e. doctor and dentist appointments and extra-curricular activities, then maintenance can still be payable, even if the days are equally shared.
Myth 5 – it costs money to go through the CMS
True and false – you can use the child maintenance service calculator on the internet for free however you will need to be aware of the paying parent’s income to do this. If you are not sure how much child maintenance should be paid you can ask the Child Maintenance Options Service to help estimate the right level of payment due. There is an application fee of £20 to pay to receive this assessment; however, you will not pay this if you are under 19, a victim of domestic abuse or you live in Northern Ireland.
Once the CMS has calculated the correct amount, you can then proceed without the assistance of the CMS and therefore there are no additional fees. However, if you would prefer to use the CMS ‘Collect and Pay’ system to collect and pass on the payments this will incur a fee for the paying parent of 20% and for the receiving parent of 4%. Therefore, if you are receiving £100 child maintenance per week, the paying parent would pay £120 to the CMS and the CMS would pay the receiving parent £96 in maintenance.
Myth 6 – the child maintenance I receive will reduce by half if the paying parent has more children
False – although the CMS will take into account the number of children for which a paying parent has to pay maintenance for, including any other children living with them, the reduction made will be 11% for 1 child, 15% for 2 and 16% for three.
Myth 7 – the resident parent does not need the money so I am not required to pay child maintenance
False – it makes no difference if the receiving parent is wealthy; child maintenance is still payable for the benefit of the children.
Myth 8 – I can pay child maintenance direct to my child rather than the resident parent.
False & True – some non-resident parents wish to pay money direct to their child, this is acceptable but ONLY if both parents agree to this.
Myth 9 – I have to use the CMS to arrange child maintenance
False – as long as you both agree, you can decide between yourselves the level of child maintenance and how often this is paid. This is called a family-based arrangement and does give both child’s parents the flexibility to change how much is paid depending on the circumstances. However, this type of agreement is not legally binding and cannot be enforced.
You can also have an agreement put into the financial order in divorce proceedings, however, in most cases after 12 months either parent can refer the matter to the CMS for assessment. The Court has no jurisdiction after this 12 months has elapsed.
Myth 10– the paying parent has moved abroad so they do not need to pay child maintenance
False – you can still make a family based arrangement with them, however if this cannot be agreed the CMS will only be able to assist you if the paying parent is:
If the above do not apply child maintenance can still be ordered by the court. Such an order is at present enforceable if: