The question “ How much child maintenance should I pay?” isn’t always a straightforward one or an easy question for a Cheshire family law solicitor to answer. That’s because most family circumstances need exploring before a definitive answer can be given so you understand how child support fits into your overall divorce financial settlement. In this article, children law solicitor, Louise Halford, answers your frequently asked questions on how much child maintenance you should pay.

Manchester and Cheshire family solicitors

Evolve Family Law can help you with all aspects of family law from divorce proceedingschild custody and contact , financial settlements and child maintenance. For help with your family and private client law needs call Evolve Family Law on 0345 222 8 222 or complete our online enquiry form.

Evolve Family Law offices are located in Whitefield, North Manchester and Holmes Chapel, Cheshire but we also offer remote meetings by telephone appointment or video call.

What is child maintenance?

Child maintenance and child support are one and the same thing to divorce solicitors. So, whilst you may hear reference to child support it is the same as child maintenance, namely the financial  support paid by one parent to the other parent or primary carer of the child for the child’s upbringing and support.

What child maintenance does not cover is:

  • Payment of school fees – if a child is being privately educated and payment of school fees is in dispute you can apply to the family court for a school fees order that the other parent pay all or a proportion of the private school fees and any specified extras
  • Payment of spousal maintenance – if the other parent requires financial support in addition to the child maintenance provided for the child’s upbringing then the parent can apply to the family court for spousal maintenance provided that they are eligible to do so. For example, you cannot apply for spousal maintenance from a former spouse if you have remarried.

Child maintenance is in essence the financial arrangement between you and the other parent of your child over the money payable to financially support the child after parental separation or divorce.

The amount of child maintenance payable is not dependant on the status of the parent’s relationship. In other words, whether child support is payable and the amount of child support isn’t affected by whether you are in a married or cohabiting relationship. However, under current law an unmarried partner can’t claim spousal maintenance whereas a husband or wife or civil partner can do so from their separated or divorced spouse or civil partner.

Is child maintenance payable if you don’t see the child?

If you are a separated parent and you don’t see your child , either as a result of your decision, a child arrangement order by the family court or you don’t see your child frequently because of distances and difficulties with travel, you will still need to pay child maintenance. Your legal obligation to pay child maintenance only stops if the child is adopted.

How is child maintenance calculated?

Child maintenance can be calculated and paid under:

  • A private arrangement– this is between you and the other parent
  • Under a court order – in limited circumstances the family court has the power to make a child maintenance order
  • Through a Child Maintenance Service assessment – the Child Maintenance Service is a government body tasked with calculating and securing payment of child maintenance.

How long is child maintenance payable for?

You will need to pay child maintenance until:

  • Your child is sixteen or
  • Your child is under twenty if they are in approved education or training or
  • Until you agree otherwise if payments are made on a voluntary basis under a family arrangement.

Arranging child maintenance with the other parent

You don’t have to involve a solicitor or the Child Maintenance Service to sort out how much child maintenance you should pay if you prefer to sort it out direct with the other parent. However, divorce solicitors recommend that you take some specialist legal advice so you understand how child maintenance fits in with the overall financial settlement, such as whether spousal maintenance is payable and for how long or who gets to stay at the family home. It is also important to reality test the proposed amount of any agreed child maintenance to make sure that you will still have enough  to live on, especially when you have rehoused yourself and taken on a new mortgage or are incurring extra costs because of travelling to see the children.

The best point about agreeing child maintenance with the other parent is that you can agree any figure that you want to with the child’s mother or father. You don’t have to use the strict mathematical formula adopted by the Child Maintenance Service but instead can look at what the child needs and what you can afford to pay. Arrangements can be flexible and could involve you paying less than what the Child Maintenance Service would assess you as being liable to pay because you have agreed to share the costs of private nursery fees or after school or holiday clubs or you agree to pay an older child a set monthly amount in clothing and pocket money allowance. Alternatively, you can agree that payments should be higher than the Child Maintenance Service would assess you as being liable to pay because you are able to afford a higher figure and you want your child to be able to enjoy a similar standard of living to that experienced whilst you were living together as a family.

If you agree child maintenance payments direct it is best to remember that you can’t bank on the child maintenance payments staying the same. If payments are made on a voluntary basis they could change, for example, they could go down if the parent paying child support realises that that the agreed figure is unaffordable because they have had to take on a big monthly mortgage commitment to buy a new property. If direct arrangements break down you can try to reach a new agreement using family solicitors or family mediation or an application could be made to the Child Maintenance Service.

Using the Child Maintenance Service

If you decide to use the Child Maintenance Service the government agency can calculate the amount of child maintenance you should pay or receive. The Child Maintenance Service uses a strict mathematical formula to assess the amount of child support. This formula does not consider the child’s outgoings (such as nursery fees) or the receiving parent or paying parent’s outgoings but instead focusses on the paying parent’s income.

Once the Child Maintenance Service has calculated the amount of child support payable the payments can be made direct between parents or collected through the Child Maintenance Service. If you use the Child Maintenance Service to collect and transfer the child support then the Child Maintenance Service will charge a fee. That’s why it is preferrable to arrange payment direct if it is possible to do so.

Who can’t use the Child Maintenance Service to calculate child support?

You can’t make an application to the Child Maintenance Service for child support if:

  • You have care of your child and you live outside the UK or
  • The parent who is liable to pay child support lives outside the UK and doesn’t work for a British company or
  • You are seeking child support for a step child. If you are married or you were previously married and the child was treated as a child of the family you may be able to apply to court for a child support court order
  • You need child maintenance to cover school fees or the additional costs arising out of a child’s disability. You may be able to apply to court for an order to pay these costs
  • You agreed a financial court order that includes a child support order for the child and the order is either less than twelve months in age or the financial court order was made prior to the 3 March 2003.

How much child maintenance should I pay?

The amount of child maintenance that you should pay is calculated by looking at:

  • Your weekly gross income – this could be your salary or self-employed earnings
  • The number of children you need to pay child maintenance for
  • Whether there are children living with you in your new household – these could be step children or children you have had with a new partner
  • The amount of overnight contact time you enjoy with the children you are paying child maintenance for – overnight contact time is averaged over a year rather than looked at on a weekly or monthly basis.

You can calculate the amount of child maintenance you should pay or you should receive using the government online child support calculator but it is best to look at child maintenance within the context of your financial settlement so you understand how child support fits in with spousal maintenance and the split of capital or who gets to stay in the family home. It is also important to understand that child maintenance can go up or down or could end if the child moves to live with their other parent or there is a shared care arrangement.

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Manchester and Cheshire family solicitors

For fast friendly family law advice call Evolve Family Law. Our specialist family law solicitors can help you with divorce proceedingschild custody and contact , financial settlements and child maintenance. Call Evolve Family Law on 0345 222 8 222 or complete our online enquiry form.

Evolve Family Law offices are located in Whitefield, North Manchester and Holmes Chapel, Cheshire but we also offer remote meetings by telephone appointment or video call.

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