Can’t pay… Won’t pay

Posted on: August 30th, 2018

Angelina’s claim that Brad is failing to provide meaningful child support is not uncommon and many parents will find themselves in this situation.

The difference is that unlike Angelina, for them the payment of child support will determine whether or not they can pay the bills and provide their children with the things they need, let alone the things that they want such as new clothes, gadgets and days out. The summer holiday is a particularly expensive time for parents who need to entertain their children during the long 6 week break, and buying the things they need for the new school year.

Shocking statistics
A recent article has disclosed that in the first 3 months of 2018, almost 50% of parents due to pay Child Support through the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) in Southampton failed to pay. The article said that in Winchester the situation is even worse with 80 out of 130 (61.5%) failing to pay. Nationally, the DWP has confirmed that only 60% of parents in the “Collect & Pay” scheme are paying “some” of their Child Maintenance. That means a huge amount of parents are forced to survive without child maintenance.

So what options do you have?
Family-based arrangements
The CMS encourages parents to communicate to try and reach an agreement because they say it minimises conflict and maximises cooperation. The agreement could be based on a fixed monthly amount, a percentage of income and/or a sharing of the children’s expenses. It should reflect what you both think is fair and affordable and does not have to be based on the rules. If you need a starting point, use the Child Maintenance calculator at www.cmoptions.org, provided you know what the the paying parent’s income is.

Child Maintenance Service
If you can’t agree, you can apply to the CMS for a formal calculation. The CMS will access income information from HMRC to calculate the correct amount of maintenance. There is a £20 application fee for this. The CMS will notify both parents of the calculation, and leave you to sort out arrangements for payment. In brief, the amount is calculated at the following percentages of gross income up to £800 per week (£41,600 per annum gross or £3,466 per month gross):

For 1 child at 12% For 2 children at 16% For 3 or more children at 19%

Different percentages are used for any income above £800 per week, and then added on to the amount above. There are other factors which influence the calculation such as pension payments, how many nights a week the children stay overnight and whether there are any other children living with the paying parent.

Collect & Pay
If the paying parent will not pay, it is possible to ask the CMS to collect the payments. This can be done in a number of ways, but there are ongoing fees for this service. The paying parent is charged at 20% of the maintenance payable and the parent with care is charged at 4%, meaning that both parents will lose out to some extent. If there is still a failure to pay then the CMS can take enforcement action through the courts.

Consent Orders
I
f you are going through a divorce with help from solicitors, it may be possible to reach a financial agreement in respect of child support which is incorporated into a consent order which will remain in force for 12 months, after that time, it is open to either parent to change to another arrangement.
If the other parent lives abroad, it may be necessary to make a court application. Coffin Mew can advise and assist if you find yourself in this situation.

And finally, some planned changes
The government has announced some changes which it is hoped will improve the collection of child maintenance and these are likely to be implemented in the autumn of 2018. In summary, these are 1) including unearned income in the calculation (where that information is provided by the parent with care) 2) including a notional income if a paying parent has substantial capital assets 3) allowing child maintenance to be deducted from Universal Credit payments where the paying parent is receiving it 4) allowing child maintenance to be taken from accounts which the paying parent holds jointly with a third party (subject to some safeguards) and 5) allowing the removal of the paying parent’s passport in some cases of non payment as an additional enforcement method.

If you need further advice in relation to separation, please contact Elianne Edgington at Coffin Mew, Wantage.