CHILD SUPPORT & SCHOOL FEES
If parents can’t reach agreement on how much child support should be paid either parent can ask the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to carry out an assessment of how much child support should be paid. The parents can then either sort out payment direct with one another or the parents can ask the Child Maintenance Service to arrange and transfer the payment. There is a charge for the Child Maintenance Service to take the payment and pass it on to the other parent, so the Child Maintenance Service encourages parents to sort out payments direct.
Child support and spousal maintenance
Lots of parents get confused about child support and spousal maintenance. They are two very different payments although when the payment is made one bank transfer can be made for ease.
Although child support is calculated using a set formula the court does not use a mathematical formula to decide on how much maintenance should be paid to an ex-husband or an ex-wife. If you are asking for financial support or providing financial support it is sensible and prudent to get specialist legal advice so that you know how child support fits in with any other maintenance payments and any overall financial settlement.
Equal or shared parenting
Most families assume that the higher earner will have to pay child support for a child, but that is not necessarily the case. If there is an equal parenting arrangement (based on the number of nights per week on average that a child spends with each parent) then neither parent will pay child support to the other, even if one has a better job or fewer outgoings.
If one parent spends fewer nights (averaged over a year to take into account holidays) in overnight contact than the other parent then they will be expected to pay child support to the other parent. That is the case even if the paying parent is on less income than the parent receiving the child support or has a bigger mortgage and outgoings.
If you have a shared care arrangement it is important to keep a record of how much overnight time is spent as the amount will affect the amount of child support.
The Child Maintenance Service formula
The CMS uses a set mathematical formula to work out how much child support is payable provided that the payer’s gross income (after deduction of pension contributions) is £156,000 a year or less. If the paying parent’s income is more than £156,000 a year the court has the power to make additional child maintenance orders (known as top-up child support) to provide extra child support. The court does not use the same Child Maintenance Service formula when awarding top-up child support but instead looks at a range of factors , including the child’s needs.
How is gross income calculated?
The paying parent’s gross income is usually calculated using the information provided to the Inland Revenue for the most recently available full tax year. Normally, to change this, the payer has to produce proof of current annual gross income that has to be different from the figure used by HMRC by at least 25% before the amount of child support will be altered. The amount of child support payable is not affected by how much the receiving parent earns each year or by his or her disposable income.
What about special expenses?
The amount of child support can be affected by “special expenses” such as the costs incurred in seeing a child.
What about additional income?
Additional income can include unearned income (such as dividends). If a parent receives unearned income the receiving parent could apply for a variation from the basic child support formula.
Reaching a child support agreement
The Child Maintenance Service encourages parents to reach an agreement, without the need for a child support assessment by them or if the Child Maintenance Service do carry out the assessment they encourage parents to sort out payments direct , in order to save the parent’s paying the child support collection fees. Information about child support options is to be found at www.cmoptions.org/.
The child support calculator
The Child Maintenance Service provides a helpful child support calculator to help calculate the potential amount of child support that may be payable at www.gov.uk/calculate-your-child-maintenance.
We can also calculate child support liability for you and discuss the interplay between how much is paid or received in child support and the amount payable in spousal maintenance on divorce.
What are the reductions in child support for overnight contact?
The amount payable in child support is reduced by 1/7th for every night of the week that, on average, a child spends with the paying parent. If there is more than one child and the children do not stay overnight for the same number of nights then the reduction is the average figure. Accordingly if one child spends one night per week and the other child spends 2 nights per week on average this would result in a reduction of 3/14th’s.
What about if there are other children receiving child support?
If the paying parent is financially supporting other children then the payer’s gross income will be reduced by the following percentages depending upon the number of children he or she is supporting before the child support is calculated, namely:-
- 11% for one child
- 14% for two children
- 16% for three or more children
What if the receiving parent is remarried or living with a partner?
For the purposes of the Child Maintenance Service calculating child support the payee’s income and personal circumstances (for example whether he or she has remarried or is in a cohabiting relationship) are not relevant.
Can the court make child support orders?
Although the court has limited power to make child support orders the court can make the following orders:-
- Payment of school fees and other educational expenses;
- Expenses arising if the child has a disability;
- Financial support for young children age 20 and over if they are in full-time education;
- A lump sum or cash order or orders to meet specific needs of the child;
- Provision for housing – although if funds are made available to buy a house the house will remain the asset of the payer and the payer will be able to sell the property once the child finishes full-time education.
- Child support if both parents agree to the court making an order. If both parents do not agree to the court making an order the court does not have the power to order child support. After a court order has been in place for a year either parent can make an application to the Child Maintenance Service. Any assessment by the Child Maintenance Service will then override the court order. This issue has to be carefully considered if the paying parent has agreed to pay more than the likely Child Maintenance Service award as part of a financial settlement.
- Top up child support
What is top up child support?
If the Child Maintenance Service makes the maximum child support award (because the paying parent’s gross income is more than £156,000 a year) then the court can make a top-up child support order. The top-up child support is enforceable and still payable even after a year has passed from the making of the order, provided that there is still a maximum Child
Maintenance Service assessment in place.
Can child support be varied?
Child support can go up or down dependent upon changes in the paying parent’s financial circumstances i.e. his or her gross income and pension contributions or personal circumstances i.e. the number of children he or she is financially supporting.
What about school fees?
Most parents’ fear on separation is whether or not their child will need to change school. The Child Maintenance Service can’t order a parent to pay school fees but the court can make an order to make one parent either pay or contribute toward private school fees and ‘extras’. The court will look at a range of factors when making a decision about whether or not to make a school fees order, including affordability if a couple are trying to create and support two homes out of the income that used to support one family home and school fees.
If parents can’t agree on whether a child should go into or remain in private education either parent can separately ask a court to decide the specific issue LINK of which specific school the child should go to. It is possible for parents to agree on the principle of private or state education but not be able to resolve the identity of the particular school.
How we can help
Sorting out a financial settlement is a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle. The puzzle only works if you have all the pieces and they fit together. As specialist family and children solicitors we can help you look at the inter play between child support, spousal maintenance and the overall financial settlement to make sure that you reach a resolution that works for you and your family. We can advise you in traditional court proceedings or support you through mediation.