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Divorce and family law explained 

Child support where are we now

I feel really sorry for people caught in the CSA trap. Not just because of the tales I often hear of delay, rudeness and the harsh effects of the rules. But the rules are incredibly complex and open to interpretation by the CSA workers with little realistic appeal possible. How people who by the nature of the involvement of the CSA often cannot afford legal advice can be properly informed I really do not know. Lawyers themselves find the rules unusually difficult, or at least find advising how they may be applied to be an educated part guessing game.

What follows is an attempt to update you on some recent changes. Believe it or not, what follows is also very much simplified to make it as readable as we can.

Note my deliberate mistake above. It isn’t called the CSA now, but CMEC and has been for some time. But I know most people still know it as the former!

The Child Support Act 1991 came into force in April 1993 and effectively removed recovery of child maintenance from the courts (except in limited circumstances) to the exclusive jurisdiction of the Child Support Agency (CSA). In November 2008, the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) took over responsibility for the child maintenance system from the CSA.

It is intended that all cases should have been transferred to CMEC by the end of 2011 and CMEC will become fully operational from 2013-2014. CMEC aims to improve the collection of child support and simplify the assessment procedures. One example is that parents can choose to opt out of the CSA by reaching agreement between themselves. However, such agreement is not legally binding. Also it is no longer compulsory for the parent on benefits to apply to the CSA. This parent can also retain a greater amount of the child maintenance whilst on benefits i.e. £20 instead of £10 per week.

From April 2010, monies received in child maintenance payments will not be taken into account when calculating that parent’s entitlement to certain benefits.

The formula for assessment of maintenance is expected to change from net to gross in 2011. Full details of changes have yet to be confirmed.

CMEC will also have greater powers of enforcement against those parents who do not pay to include deductions from bank accounts, confiscating passports and reclaiming payment from the estate of a deceased parent. Worryingly, CMEC will also have the ability to enforce its decisions without the need to apply to court. Whilst removing the need to court is likely to result in a simplified and more streamlined enforcement procedure, the concern of course is whether CMEC actually gets its figures right which is not something the CSA have been particularly good on in the past to say the least.

There are instances when CMEC has no jurisdiction to recover child maintenance and such cases will require the assistance of the court. For example, CMEC can only usually deal with an application for child maintenance when both parents and the child live in the UK and so if one parent lives outside the UK it may be necessary (except in certain circumstances) to apply for maintenance through the courts. The same applies to provision sought for private school fees or step children.

Also, if within divorce proceedings parties are able to reach an agreement as to child maintenance, and agree for this to be inserted into a consent order (made after 3rd March 2003), the effect is that neither party can make an application to CMEC for a period of 12 months from the date of the order and any request for variation during the initial 12 months would have to be dealt with by the court.

Well, thanks for all this I hear you say but where do I go for help? As always the answer depends upon the detail, but this is a guide:

  • Help with calculations, queries on CSA procedure, applying for child support? Go to CSA website: www.csa.gov.uk
  • Support, help and advice on the CSA generally, concerns about how they are treating you, worried they’ve made an error? Go to NACSA: www.nacsa.co.uk
  • Want to sue the CSA for their behaviour; the CSA are enforcing an Order against you and you think they shouldn’t? Go to NACSA: www.nacsa.co.uk
  • Want to agree maintenance between you; the child or a parents lives outside UK; the child is a step-child or private school fees are involved? Contact us to arrange a free telephone appointment to discuss your options on 0800 321 3832.
 

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