Although child maintenance sounds obvious it isn’t as many parents question what child maintenance is for. In this blog we look at the topic of child maintenance and discuss what child support is for.
What is Child Maintenance?
Some parents take a very narrow view of what child support is (pocket money and birthday presents) whereas other parents think that child maintenance should cover all the household outgoings (the mortgage, heating costs, the food bill for everyone in the house as well as holidays). Child maintenance solicitors say that there is official guidance on what child maintenance is for. The government says that child maintenance is ‘financial support towards your child’s everyday living costs when you’ve separated from the other parent’.
The government definition of child maintenance doesn’t really drill down into what child maintenance covers but child support solicitors question how relevant that is when the bottom line is that child maintenance is calculated by the Child Maintenance Service based on the paying parent’s income rather than the child’s everyday living costs. The Child Maintenance Service formula means the paying parent has to pay a percentage of their income in child maintenance, whether or not the child maintenance figure is less or more than the child’s everyday living costs.
There are some exceptions and cases where a child’s everyday living costs are more relevant when calculating how much should be paid in child maintenance. These include:
- Both parents want to agree a figure for child maintenance based on the child’s needs rather than using the Child Maintenance Service mathematical formula
- The parent paying child support has received a maximum child maintenance assessment from the Child Maintenance Service and the parent receiving the child support has applied to court for top-up child maintenance. Top up child maintenance is based on a child’s needs. The court will look at the standard of living enjoyed by the family before the relationship breakdown when assessing the figure for top up child support (for example, swimming lessons, tennis coaching , piano tuition and other child related expenditure)
- The child suffers from a disability and has specific additional costs associated with their disability. The parent receiving the child maintenance can apply to court for an order to help cover the additional costs (for example, equipment or treatment not available on the National Health Service)
- The child is being privately educated or a parent wants the child to go into private education and makes an application to court for a school fees order to cover the cost of private school fees and extras (for example, extra tuition or school ski trips)
- The very limited circumstances in which the family court retains jurisdiction to make a child maintenance order. Although, in these situations the court will look at the amount of child maintenance that would have been payable had the Child Maintenance Service had jurisdiction to make a child maintenance assessment.
Can a parent say what their child maintenance should pay for?
When one parent is paying child maintenance to the other parent it isn’t uncommon for the parent paying child maintenance to be highly critical of the other parent’s expenditure and use of the child support. For example, they may criticise the quality of the child’s clothing or dietary choices. In other scenarios, parents have been known to expect the parent receiving the child support to provide everything for the child during contact visits because the other parent is receiving child maintenance.
Child support solicitors recommend that parents try to resolve child maintenance by agreement with the help of their family solicitors before making an application to the Child Maintenance Service for a child maintenance assessment. Negotiations mean parents can each take into account the other’s circumstances when reaching an agreement on the level of payment of child support.
What is not covered by child maintenance?
It is just as important to understand what isn’t covered by child maintenance as it is to understand what child maintenance is for.
Child maintenance from the Child Maintenance Service doesn’t cover:
- Child maintenance for step-children. An application to court can be made for child support for step-children
- School fees for the costs of private education. An application to court can be made for a school fees order. The court can order that a parent pays all the school fees or a proportion of them.
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How does spousal maintenance fit in with child maintenance?
Many people question what child maintenance is for because they have been ordered to pay child maintenance by the Child Maintenance Service and ordered to pay spousal maintenance by the court.
When the Child Maintenance Service assess how much should be paid in child maintenance they use a strict mathematical formula that doesn’t take into account an ex-spouse’s spousal maintenance or other sources of income. However, when the court is assessing how much spousal maintenance should be paid the judge will take into account:
- The ability of the paying spouse to pay spousal maintenance taking into account their child maintenance liability as assessed by the Child Maintenance Service
- The reasonable future income and outgoings of each spouse
- The earnings capacity of each spouse and whether that will change, for example, through vocational training or because of ill health
- Whether there is a shortfall in one spouse’s income taking into account their reasonable income and outgoings, the payment of child maintenance and earnings capacity and, if so, taking into account factors such as the length of the marriage or capital distribution, decide if spousal maintenance should be paid and, if so, for how long.
Negotiating child support and spousal maintenance can be complicated so it is best to take legal advice on your options and the range of likely orders that a court would make if either you or your ex-spouse were to either apply to court for spousal maintenance or for an order to reduce or increase the amount of spousal maintenance payable. An application can be made to vary spousal maintenance because of a change in the payer or payee’s financial or other circumstances.
Manchester and Cheshire Child Maintenance Solicitors
If you need advice on calculating or paying or receiving child maintenance or need help with negotiating a financial settlement or sorting out child custody after your separation or divorce then the child maintenance solicitors at Evolve Family Law can help you. Call us or complete our online enquiry form.
Our offices in Holmes Chapel, Cheshire and Whitefield, Manchester are open for face to face meetings, however an appointment is required. We also offer remote meetings by appointment by video call or telephone for those who prefer not to travel.