Most separated and divorced parents find some of the child support service rules relating to the calculation of child maintenance incomprehensible. Child maintenance solicitors have to try to explain how child support is calculated without attempting to try to justify the rules or tribunal decisions.
Child maintenance and shared care
Nowadays, in the vast majority of family situations, if you separate or divorce and you have dependent children, the child maintenance service (rather than the family court) will have the jurisdiction to calculate how much child support should be paid and to enforce the assessment.
In order to try to keep child maintenance simple to calculate, some years ago the child maintenance service introduced a new child support formula. How much you pay in child maintenance is calculated as a percentage of your income. That sounds simple enough to most parents but then added child support rules start to creep in , such as if there is a shared or equal parenting arrangement with the children spending the same amount of time with each parent then no child maintenance is payable by either parent .
The rights and wrongs of the shared parenting rule and child maintenance is a moot point. Most child maintenance solicitors say it can produce both fair and unfair results. Take two scenarios:
- Two parents equally share the care of the children and both earn roughly the same amount – no child maintenance is liable under child maintenance service rules, not because of the earnings of the mother and father are the same but because care of the children is shared;
- Two parents equally share the care of the children. One is a high earner and the other barely scrapes by on their salary each month. No child maintenance is liable under child maintenance service rules as the parenting is shared. The parent who is on a lower income will not be able to ask for spousal maintenance to help address the income gap in the two households if they were in a cohabiting or unmarried relationship with their ex-partner.
Child maintenance and contact
It is not just shared parenting that can produce odd results with child maintenance service assessments. If a parent has overnight contact with their child, the amount they pay in child support under a child maintenance service assessment is reduced. The amount of the reduction depends on the extent of the overnight contact.
This child maintenance service rule can throw up some equally fair and unfair results, depending on whose perspective you look at child support from. Take two scenarios:
- A mother is the main carer of the children. The father sees the children each night but cannot have the children overnight as he works shifts and his shift patterns mean that the children would have to get up too early. Although the mother earns twice as much as the father and despite his seeing the children each day, he is liable to pay the full child maintenance service assessment with no reduction for his daily contact as he does not have the children overnight;
- A mother is the main carer of the children and the father has overnight contact on three nights a week. Although the mother still needs to pay her mortgage and pay for school clothes and holidays, the amount of her child support is reduced significantly because of the father’s overnight staying contact. The mother earns half the amount of the father. That scenario may seem unfair to the mother but imagine if the mother earnt double the father’s income. The father would still have to pay the same amount in child support and pay for his children’s upkeep on three nights a week. However, the father would pay nothing in child maintenance if care were shared equally. The difference a day makes in child contact can add up to hundreds of pounds a month in child maintenance.
Child maintenance rules
The child maintenance scenarios are just a few examples of why child custody solicitors and child maintenance solicitors do not try to justify the child maintenance service rules.
The best advice , if you are splitting up from a partner and have children together , is to try and reach an agreement over who gets the house , who gets the pension and how the children are financially supported in one package so the fairness of the overall financial settlement can be looked at.
For information about child maintenance and contact and financial settlements please call Evolve Family Law on +44 (0) 1477 464020 or email Robin Charrot at [email protected]
Appointments are available in Whitefield, Manchester and Cheshire.