Legal advice from Stephen Lawson, Warrington Law Society president, head of litigation at FDR Law
Q: ‘I have just separated from my wife and need to sort out how much maintenance I should pay to support our two children?
A: The way child maintenance is collected and paid has changed considerably in recent years. The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) brought in new rules at the end of June which effectively mean that parents will have to pay more if they want the state to intervene in the collection process.
If your split was fairly amicable and you can make arrangements privately with your ex-wife that would certainly be the best course. A handy child maintenance calculator on the website cmoptions.org can help you work out what the state considers is a fair amount. Of course, this is only a suggested maintenance level and does not reflect all individual personal circumstances. Once you have both agreed what is appropriate, it is up to you to keep up regular payments. This type of private arrangement is not enforceable in a court of law.
If you or your ex-wife want the CMS to set an appropriate maintenance level, you will now have to pay a £20 application fee. If you then subsequently set up ‘direct payment’ arrangements privately, you will not face further charges.
However if your maintenance payments get into arrears or you decide to let the Government administer your maintenance payments, a 20% administration fee will be added to every amount collected. This means that for every £100 assessed, the non-resident paying parent will actually have to hand over £120. From this sum, the Government takes an administration fee of £24, leaving only £96 for the receiving parent.
This seems far from fair but the message from the Government is clear – sort out maintenance payments yourself or you’ll pay a heavy penalty. I represent a wide range of clients who believe they have been unfairly treated by the CMS and Child Support Agency.