The new Child Maintenance Service is charging parents to use it – with the money therefore being directed away from the children. The best way to put children first is to agree financial support with your ex independently.
You’ve heard the term “like taking sweets from a baby”? Well, there has been some debate in recent weeks about the charges related to the Government’s new Child Maintenance Service. Specifically, the accusation has been that the charges are taking money away from the very children the service has been set up to help. This cannot be a good thing.
We are currently campaigning to raise awareness about putting children first in divorce. The hope is that this will make the horrific process of divorce slightly easier for them. The law already dictates, to a large extent, that it is what is best for the children that should be at the heart of decision-making. The sad reality is that, on the battlefield of a family break-up, the young people involved are so often forgotten or, worse, dropped behind enemy lines by parents as a secret weapon to score points.
In this context, anything that means children may be losing out in divorce, either by omission or through legal issues, is at odds with our goal.
The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) is the replacement for the much-maligned Child Support Agency (CSA). It is an agency that parents can use to get the absent parent to financially support their offspring if that support is not forthcoming. A fee of £20 to use the service has already been introduced. This may not seem like much but this can be a big hit for a single parent with limited means. Single parents’ and children charity Gingerbread estimates this will amount to an average £70 a year per child.
On top of this, if the CMS has to collect child maintenance from the paying parent, they will apply an additional charge of 20 per cent to that parent. They will also take four per cent from the child’s maintenance before passing it on. Is this really putting the child at the heart of considerations?
The Government is already making (estimated) savings of around £350 million a year through cuts to the Legal Aid system, which mean very few people can now get their divorce funded by the Government. Could some of that not have been used to underpin this new collection service? Obviously, there is a cost implication of running such a body and the money needs to come from somewhere, but why should it come from the pockets of the children it is supposed to be help?
The government’s own impact assessment predicts that 100,000 families will stop getting maintenance altogether as a result of the changes. Again, how can this be helping? I am not sure people would complain too much about a nominal administration charge to help towards the costs of the service but it is the “cut” the Government is making at both ends of the payments that rankles.
What is the answer? Well, there is little that can be done in terms of the service itself. The best option is not to use it. This can be achieved if parents get together, sensibly, put the needs of the children first, and work out a way to manage where they live and the contact they have with the absent parents, plus what level of financial support is correct. You may not want to speak to your ex. You may want to disagree with everything they say when you do – but think of what is best for your son or daughter. Reach an agreement, get an experienced family lawyer to capture the details formally in a document, and get on with your lives. This is what is best for all concerned.
Managing partner, Woolley & Co, solicitors