Child maintenance exposing the myths
There are many cases of misunderstanding when it comes to the subject of children, divorce and child maintenance.
Unfortunately in our society today all too many relationships breakdown and one of the most emotionally challenging aspects is how to deal with the children and the issues around child support on divorce and separation.
Below we refer to the CSA. On 27/10/08 the government changed the name of the body to the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) but we suspect most people will still use the name “CSA”. There were also changes to the method of calculation and massive increases in powers of enforcement.
When do the Courts get involved in maintenance?
What many people are unaware of is that when the Government introduced the Child Support Agency (CSA) in the early 90's the Courts lost their powers to deal with maintenance for children. This means that Courts can now only make maintenance orders for children in a limited number of cases:
- Where the parents both apply to the court for an ‘order by consent’ - that is both parties agree amongst themselves how much will be paid
- Where a child is in full-time education and there are school fees to pay
- Where a child is undergoing vocational training or an apprenticeship and there are expenses to pay
- Where a child is disabled, and there are care costs
- Where the other parent lives abroad on a permanent basis
- Where the parties have agreed not to divorce just yet, but to enter into a formal, written separation agreement, then child maintenance can be incorporated into such an agreement and the terms and provisions of that agreement can be ‘converted’ into a consent order in a subsequent divorce.
The role of the Child Support Agency (CSA)
The Child Support Agency deals with maintenance for children in most circumstances. This also means that lawyers cannot help very much if the CSA has already made an assessment and the payer refuses to pay or if the payee or payer think the figure the CSA have decided upon is wrong.
At this point the responsibility rests with the CSA to take action, by hearing a form of informal appeal or by taking the non-payer to Court to make them pay by, for example, asking the Court to make an Attachment of Earnings Order so that the money is stopped out of their wages each week.
There are restrictions on what the CSA can deal with. They cannot for example deal with maintenance for children over 17 years of age unless they are still in full-time secondary school education, although the new changes on 27/10/08 anticipate that detailed rules will be made allowing the CSA to continue until age 20.
Where a parent who should be making payments is living abroad, the CSA can, in theory, enforce payment by i) getting a Court order and ii) getting it enforced by local law enforcement authorities. They can send orders to all EU states, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and some others but so far as we are aware, they actually never do this because it costs them too much money, but as set out above, you can personally apply to the court for a maintenance order in these circumstances.
How can your lawyer help?
Unfortunately most people find it uneconomic to try to tackle difficulties with the CSA using lawyers. Instead we recommend contacting NACSA which specialises in providing advice, support and information.
They help all those affected by the Child Support Act and the Agency created to administer it. NACSA charge a subscription fee of just £50 for a year’s access to advice, help and support through a telephone helpline number or email. Visit the NACSA website to find out more – www.nacsa.co.uk.
A lawyer can expertly assess your personal circumstances, and advise you whether it is better to make an application to the courts, or leave things to the CSA, but you should seek advice as early as possible, so that we can help you to make the right decision for your children.
Remember, a CSA assessment may be better for you than a court order, or vice versa but once either is made, there are long-term implications for children and you may need help to choose the best option.
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