Child maintenance - new rules
Child maintenance should be simple. After all, it’s just regular financial support paid from one parent to another, when those parents don’t live together. And usually the payment goes from the parent who sees the children least, to the parent who sees them most – the parent who needs the money.
Coming to an agreement
Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy. Unless you’re happy about making what’s known as a ‘family-based arrangement’, many parents find it hard to agree on who should pay what, when. So the next step is usually to ask for enforcement or an official decision and, depending on when you’ve asked for that help, such an arrangement comes under one of three schemes. It will be:
- A Child Support Agency (CSA) case, opened before March 2003 (the 1993 scheme)
- A Child Support Agency (CSA) case, opened after March 2003 (the 2003 scheme), or,
- A Child Maintenance Service (CMS) cases (the 2012 scheme)
But from the beginning of 2014, Child Support Agency cases are being closed and transferred over to the new agency, the Child Maintenance Service.
Child Maintenance Service
The CMS will be different in four key ways. First, if you can’t agree how much should be paid, then the CMS can make a decision for you – but not get involved in collecting it. This is known as Direct Pay. The CMS can also get involved in enforcing payments, but there’s a £20 fee to use that service and it can’t be accessed until 12 months after a consent order has been issued. This is known as Collect & Pay.
Under proposed law, there may eventually be a 20% collection fee and a 4% receipt fee for using the Collect & Pay service. The message is clear – the government really does want parents to agree about child maintenance.
Child Maintenance Options
To help though, there’s Child Maintenance Options – a free service that offers advice to both parents, to help them make decisions about who pays what, when. If you want to use the Child Maintenance Service, you’ll have to speak to Child Maintenance Options first. And finally, unlike Child Support Agency cases, parents who share the care equally don’t have to pay each other if they've come that agreement through the CMS
The Child Support Agency isn’t accepting case any more, and is now handing over cases to the Child Maintenance Service. Parents who set up their arrangements through the CSA will receive a letter, about 6 months before this happens, and encouraged to make a family-based arrangement.