The framework for assessing, collecting and enforcing child maintenance payments is set out in the Child Support Act 1991. Under the Act, both separated parents of a qualifying child are responsible for the financial cost of bringing up that child, provided the parent does not fall under one of the exemptions. Once it has been determined who is liable to pay child maintenance – the ‘paying parent’ – the next key question will be how much is child maintenance?
How much is child maintenance under a family-based arrangement?
A family-based arrangement is where parents decide between themselves how much maintenance is to be paid, without involving the courts or the Child Maintenance Service.
The amount of child maintenance payable under this type of arrangement will usually depend on the individual circumstances of you and your separated family, although to avoid potential future issues, this will need to be both affordable and realistic.
It is sensible to include a review date so that you can reconsider the agreement at a later date and change it if necessary.
You should keep a written record of what is agreed under your family-based agreement, although any such agreement, even in writing, will not be legally binding or enforceable. This means that a parent who stops paying cannot be forced to do so.
How much is child maintenance under a consent order?
To formalise matters, it is possible to apply to the court for a family-based arrangement and the agreed levels of child maintenance payments to be approved by way of a legally binding consent order. A consent order is an order made by the court which makes any agreement enforceable.
Typically, a consent order will be sought from the courts with the help of solicitors. There will also be a fee for applying to the court for the order itself.
How much is child maintenance under a statutory child maintenance arrangement?
If you opt to apply for a statutory child maintenance arrangement, the Child Maintenance Service will calculate how much maintenance should be paid on your behalf based on a standard formula.
The amount of child maintenance payable will depend upon:
The gross weekly income of the paying parent.
The number of qualifying children. These are the children looked after by the parent with main day-to-day care.
The number of relevant other children. These are children for whom the paying parent is also financially responsible.
Whether you share the care of the children.
Whether there are special circumstances that will affect the amount of maintenance to be paid.
The calculation does not take into account the income of the receiving parent, or how much is needed to bring up the children. The amount received will be fixed and the Child Maintenance Service will review the calculation annually, or where the paying parent has a change of circumstances.
The rates of child maintenance
The rate of child maintenance payable will depend upon the circumstances of the paying parent. One of five rates will be applied, based on their gross weekly income. Where care of the qualifying children is shared, the overall amount of child maintenance payable may be less still.
The nil rate
There are limited circumstances in which the maintenance calculation will be assessed at nil. This can be where the paying parent is, for example, a prisoner, living in a care home, is aged under 20 but in full-time education up to A’level or equivalent, or has a gross income of less than £7 a week.
The flat rate
Where the paying parent has a gross weekly income of less than £100, or they are in receipt of certain state benefits, the amount of child maintenance payable will be assessed at a flat rate of just £7 per week. This rate will be the same regardless of how many children they have.
The reduced rate
Where the paying parent has a gross weekly income of more than £100 but less than £200 a week, the amount of child maintenance will be assessed at £7 for the first £100 of income, together with a percentage of any remaining income. This will depend on the number of qualifying children and relevant other children.
If there is one qualifying child and no relevant other children, the amount payable will be 17% of the paying parent’s income over £100. For two qualifying children the rate is 25%, and for three or more, 31%.
Where there is one relevant other child these rates are reduced to 14.1%, 21.2% and 26.4% respectively. The rates are reduced further if there are two relevant other children, and even further still for three or more relevant other children.
The basic rate (& basic rate plus)
Where the paying parent has a gross weekly income of more than £200, the basic rate is worked out as a percentage of that income.
In assessing the amount of child maintenance payable, the gross weekly income of the paying parent will first be reduced by a certain percentage depending on the number of relevant other children. For one child this will be a reduction of 11%, for two a reduction of 14%, and for three or more 16%.
The paying parent will then pay a certain percentage of the remaining income. This is 12% for one qualifying child, 16% for two qualifying children, and 19% for three or more qualifying children of the first £800 of remaining income.
If the paying parent’s gross weekly income is more than £800, they must pay 9% for one qualifying child, 12% for two qualifying children, and 15% for three or more qualifying children of any income over and above £800.
The default rate
This is where the Child Maintenance Service has insufficient information to make a calculation. In these circumstances, a default rate will be imposed of £39 per week for one child, £51 per week for two children, and £64 per week for three or more children.
How much is child maintenance having deducted any fees?
In 2014 the government introduced application and collection fees for parents using the Child Maintenance Service. This is to encourage parents to reach their own agreement through a private family-based arrangement or, if they use the service, to arrange to pay each other directly.
The Child Maintenance Service can collect child maintenance payments from the paying parent and pass them on to the receiving parent. This is known as Collect & Pay. Parents can also choose to arrange payments directly between themselves once child maintenance has been worked out. This is known as Direct Pay.
You will not be liable for any collection fees where you make your own payment arrangements under the Direct Pay system. Under the Collect & Pay service, collection fees apply each time you make or receive a payment.
These fees are calculated as follows:
Paying parents will pay a 20% fee on top of their regular child maintenance payment.
Receiving parents will have a 4% fee deducted from their regular child maintenance payment.
There is also an application fee of £20 for using the Child Maintenance Service, although you will be exempt from paying this if you are under 19 years old or a victim of domestic violence and have reported it, for example, to the police.
The matters contained in this article are intended to be for information purposes only. This article does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the information is correct, no warranty, express or implied, is given as to its accuracy and no liability is accepted for any error or omission. Before acting on any of the information contained herein, expert legal advice should be sought.