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Child support: autonomy or the state ?

View profile for Nick Ingrey
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Statutory liability to maintain a child has existed since the Poor Relief Act 1598, and is now contained in s.78 (6) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992.

S.1 of the Child Support Act 1991 also provides that each parent of a qualifying child is responsible for maintaining him/her. A qualifying child for the purpose of the CSA 1991 is a child who lives with only one, or with neither, of their natural parents. For this purpose a “child” must either be under the age of 16 or under the age of 20, but receiving full-time education which is not advanced education.

“Top-up” child maintenance Court Orders, to include payments for school fees, can also be made in certain circumstances under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 and the Children Act 1989.

However, quantifying and enforcing child maintenance liabilities can often involve interpretation of fairly complex primary and secondary legislation and dealing with uncooperative parents.

Parents of children are, of course, free to agree between themselves the amount and frequency of child maintenance payments, but an understanding of entitlement and obligations, and a considerable degree of trust and cooperation, needs to exist between the parents in such circumstances. Such family-based child maintenance agreements ought to be recorded in writing; and, so as to facilitate enforcement, the terms of such child maintenance agreements should, ideally, be converted in to a Court Order. However, such collaboration can be defeated by one parent subsequently referring the issue of child maintenance to the bodies established by the State for that purpose, namely, the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).

Those cases presently being administered by the CSA under the original net income schemes will be terminated over a phased period ending in December 2017. All applications since December 2012 are now dealt with under the gross income scheme administered by the CMS. The transition from the old to the new State scheme will involve the need to establish a family-based child maintenance agreement or the making of an application to the CMS for a new maintenance assessment. Both the old and new schemes are, however, based upon fairly complex formulaic calculations.

Parents concerned about assessments of child support maintenance may also wish to consider an application for a variation, or even an appeal.

Our specialist family law team will be able to advise you about the merits and pitfalls of the choices which may be available to you when decisions about child support need to be made.

Please do not hesitate to contact a member of the family law team to discuss matters. Alternatively, e-mail nickingrey@roythornes.co.uk.