In an ideal world, parents will agree on an the appropriate amount of child maintenance using the child support agency calculation prepared by their divorce solicitor or the online calculator on the child support agency website. Many parents use the child maintenance figures as a rough guide as to how much child maintenance should be paid recognising ,for example, that if one parent agrees to pay for all the children’s clothes, haircuts  and school trips then expecting them to pay the full amount of a child maintenance calculation may not be appropriate. In other family situations a parent will recognise that it is fair that he or she pays a bit more than the child maintenance calculation to help pay for extras such as ballet or riding lessons. Child maintenance payments should be reconsidered if incomes and parenting arrangements change.

Sadly we don’t all live in an ideal world and some parents have to apply to the child support agency for an assessment of how much child maintenance should be paid. That is either because they can’t reach an agreement on how much child support should be paid or payments aren’t being made.

What is child maintenance based on?

As a divorce solicitor I have heard parents express shock at the amount of a child support agency child maintenance assessment. Sometimes that is because the parent hasn’t appreciated that child maintenance is based on:

  • The payer’s gross income;
  • The number of children that the payer pays child maintenance for;
  • The number of overnight  contact visits the payer has with the children;
  • The number of other children living in the payer’s household.

When calculating child maintenance the children’s needs and the payee and payer’s household bills aren’t taken into account in the child support agency calculation.

On other occasions the shock at the child support agency child maintenance figure is based on a parent’s knowledge of their partner’s income and lifestyle. If a parent doesn’t think that a child support agency child maintenance assessment is right then they should consider:

  • Asking the child support agency for a revision or mandatory reconsideration if they think the child support agency got something wrong such as the payer’s income or the number of overnight contact visits;
  • Asking the child support agency for a variation;
  • Appealing against the child support agency assessment;
  • If parents are or were married (and there is no financial clean break order in place) applying to court for spousal maintenance. This may be an option if the amount of the child support agency child maintenance payments combined with the household’s other income or potential earnings won’t meet basic needs and bills.

Grounds to vary a child support agency child maintenance calculation  

There are four potential grounds to apply for a variation of a child support agency child maintenance assessment:

  • Assets over £65,000 – the payer’s home isn’t treated as an asset. The value of investments , savings and any equity in a second home would be relevant;
  • Income not taken into account – usually this ground is used if a payer can set their own income because they are a company director and can declare dividends or use a directors loan account to fund their outgoings;
  • Diversion of income – this ground can be relevant where a payer owns their own company and employs a new partner or family members at an inflated salary in order to divert their own income;
  • Lifestyle inconsistent with declared income – this ground can be relevant if , for example, an income of £30,000 has been declared but the payer’s mortgage payments alone are believed to amount to £24,000 per year. This ground won’t work if the payer is financing his lifestyle from gifts from his parents or on credit cards.

Do I need legal advice to apply for a variation?

You don’t have to get legal advice from a divorce solicitor in order to apply for a child support agency variation but sometimes it helps to take advice on your options. It is important that you take legal advice if you haven’t reached a financial settlement with your ex-spouse or you have an ongoing spousal maintenance order. That is because there are potentially court based spousal maintenance options and other types of court order that may encourage the payer to start making reasonable child support payments. Court options can be used in combination with a variation application to the child support agency or as a stand-alone application.   

For information and advice about child maintenance and financial claims please call me on +44 (0) 1477 464020 or contact me by email at robin@evolvefamilylaw.co.uk. Appointments are available at Holmes Chapel, Cheshire and Prestwich, Manchester

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