Changes to child maintenance

Look out for changes taking place in the child maintenance system.

The existing Child Support Agency (CSA) scheme is being phased out and a new service called the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) is being introduced to assist parents where maintenance arrangements are not agreed.

The Government aims by the CMS to better support separated parents collaborate on the financial support requirements for their children, it being recognised that the CSA has had a history of inefficiency and ineffectiveness.

At the same time, the Government seeks to encourage separated parents to reach their own private child maintenance arrangements. This may be achieved directly between the parties or through mediation or through solicitors in negotiation.

The new CMS will operate an improved child maintenance calculation, using the paying parent’s gross annual income (as opposed to net) from the last tax year as its starting point. Such information will in the majority of cases come from the Revenue or paying parent’s employer/accountant and therefore avoid delay if such information is not forthcoming from the paying parent. A sliding scale will be applied to the payer’s gross income to calculate child maintenance.

Each year, the new CMS system will issue to each parent an account statement and will review the paying parents’ circumstances to make any necessary adjustment to the maintenance to ensure that the calculation remains fair and accurate, taking account of any changes in circumstances, shared care arrangement or low income.

The CMS will operate a firm approach to non-payment, taking steps to chase and collect commencing within 72 hours of a payment being missed. The CMS will have power to collect arrears direct from the paying parent’s earnings, their bank/savings account or take the matter through the Court for enforcement (for example to gain an order that the bailiffs recover the amount owing, or that a paying parent’s property is sold to achieve the payment or even that the paying party is sent to prison). The CMS system will operate an extended upper age limit to encompass maintenance for children up to the age of 20 (rather than 19 under the CSA).

The CMS proposes to charge parents for using their service. Parents will have to go through in initial telephone “gateway” service which aims to encourage collaborative child support discussions between them, before they can access the Child Maintenance Service.

For further information and advice please contact our Family team –