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Your guide to child support in the UK

Child maintenance was introduced as the ‘The Child Support Act 1991’ because the government were concerned that single parents were not being supported enough, often resulting in child poverty. The government felt that parents should be financially responsible for their children, so introduced the act so that maintenance payments could begin.

Where possible, parents are now responsible for making payments to support their children, rather than the single parent relying on financial support from the government.

Below, we’ve put together a child support guide to help you get a better understanding of some key points.

What is child support?

Child support, or child maintenance, means regular financial support that is paid by one parent to another. This payment is made as a contribution towards the child’s everyday living costs and covers children who are under the age of 16, or under the age of 20 provided they are in full time education.

How do I apply for child support?

You can apply for child support yourself or apply through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). The CMS is a ‘statuary child maintenance service’, and they can work out how much child support you should receive, and they are also able to collect payments.

The CMS is a government run agency with no ties at all with the court system. If you fail to agree the level of child maintenance that is to be paid, then either parent can apply to the CMS and ask them to conduct an assessment.

Child support agreements

In the best-case scenario, both parents will be able to agree on the level of financial support that the parent with full time care should receive. When an agreement between each parent can be amicably agreed, this generally causes less animosity and can cover various scenarios and expenditure. Many parents often agree to share all expenses, such as clothing, childcare fees, school trips etc.

If both parents agree on the amount of child support that should be received, then the level and frequency of payments can be recorded in a written document. If the agreement is more complex, or yearly increases are to be made, the document may need to be more thorough. The document does not have to be registered with the CMS, but if you have any queries regarding child maintenance it is worthwhile contacting the CMS to seek advice.

A child support agreement is most useful when both parents trust each other and are honest with their financial circumstances. However, it’s worth noting that a private agreement is not legally binding, so if one parent was to change their stance on the situation they will not be legally held to the terms of the agreement. In this case, it’s likely you’ll have to make an application to the CMS.

A court agreement is similar to a private agreement, however the agreement between each parent is recorded and approved by the court in the form of an order. This results in an agreement that is legally binding for at least 12 months. If one parent wishes to change the terms of the agreement, and the change cannot be agreed between each party, then either may apply to the CMS for a further assessment. This option is only available as part of a divorce or dissolution, and only by agreement.

Who pays child support?

The parent responsible for paying child support is the parent who doesn’t have day to day care of the child. It will be their responsibility to make child support payments to the parent who does have day to day care of the child.

There are 4 rates of child maintenance, and these rates are used with the paying parent’s financial income to calculate the weekly amount of child support that should be paid.

The government website offers a useful child maintenance calculator that you can use to estimate the amount of child maintenance that should be paid from one parent to another.

If you need guidance on any aspect of family law, or any of the other legal services that we offer here at Fonseca Law, then don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Our expert legal team are on hand to offer the best advice possible. Call us today on 01495 303124, e-mail, or fill in our convenient online contact form.