Divorce and Financial Resolutions - Child Maintenance

News & Society

  • Author Stu Mitchell
  • Published July 24, 2012
  • Word count 729

Having looked at the issues surrounding the division and distribution of wealth during a divorce, the other financial issue that needs to be resolved, often concurrently during a divorce but also following any separation, is that of child maintenance.

As a rule of thumb the parent with whom the child does not spend the bulk of their time will be obliged to pay some level of maintenance to the child’s main carer to help cover the child’s costs of living. Usually, therefore, the payment will be made the child’s the other (resident) parent but it can sometimes involve payments to grandparents or guardians instead where they have taken on the responsibility of being principle carers. The goal of child maintenance is that the principle carer does not have to carry the sole financial burden of the child’s living costs and that that burden is shared equally by both parents regardless of who the child actually lives with for most of their time.

It is always advised (except where they may cause a threat to each other’s welfare if in contact) that parents try to reach an agreement as to the levels and structure of payments between them. This cooperation, as with mediation and collaboration processes in divorce disputes, will be more likely to lead to a resolution in which each party has had a good say is therefore happier. The approach can ensure that practical nuances are included in the agreement which benefit all those involved as well as help to foster a sense of collaboration in the relationship between the estranged parents, to the long term benefit of the child. However, it is worth remembering that such agreements are not legally binding and will run purely on good will. As a consequence, parents can have the flexibility to respond to changes in circumstances straight away but there is nothing to prevent the agreement breaking down in the event of a dispute.

Where parents need assistance, the government’s Child Support Agency can be called upon to varying degrees. The CSA can act in a simple advisory capacity with its most basic service being a simple calculator that parents can use to determine how much the non-resident parent should pay. For parents that cannot reach an agreement at all the CSA can be called upon to arrange and timetable the repayments, in addition to calculating the amounts to be repaid. What’s more, if there are issues which prevent the parents from being in contact with one another, the CSA can act as a go between to collect the payments on behalf of the resident parent. They can even be used to track down the non-resident parent when their location or contact details aren’t known. Any agreements or arrangements made through the CSA (not including the calculator service) will be legally binding so this route is preferable for parents who need that reassurance.

The CSA will look at a number of variables to determine the level of maintenance that should be payable, including how much time the second parent spends with the child, the income of both parents and their situations in regard to state benefits, as well as the number of other children who live with the child in question.

There are some circumstances, however, where the CSA cannot be used to enforce a resolution and the only option is to go to court. Scenarios that fall outside of the CSA’s remit and come under court jurisdiction include those where the children involved are the non-resident parent’s step children, the second parent lives overseas, the second parent is a high earner and the carer feels that the child is entitled to more of their wealth than the CSA can award, there are education fees to be covered or the child is disabled and so has further needs.

As with the other financial disputes that arise during a divorce, the most effective way to keep costs down, and to ensure that relationships are left as healthy as they can be is to seek personal agreements through methods such as mediation. After all, the less money and emotion that is spent on resolving these disputes, the more that is left to invest in the child’s future, whether it be money in a Junior ISA or a set of more contented parents.

© Stuart Mitchell 2012

If you want to find out more about how to spend the money you save, on your child’s future, visit JISA.

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