The controversial topic of child maintenance is in the news again. Back in 2003 when I wrote the first edition of Fathers Matter my comment in relation to The Child Support Act 1991 and the Child Support Agency was that, ‘the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.’ Fast-forward eleven years and these latest reforms have attracted no less controversy due to the charges parents will have to meet if they cannot come to an amicable arrangement over child maintenance and, for one reason or another, need to use the new Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to collect payments.
There are many questions over fees in terms of who pays, and what and when. And a question I have been asked repeatedly over the past few days is, ‘Can I avoid paying fees altogether?’
This is how the new CMS works:
1. If both parents can come to an agreement over child maintenance (a Family based arrangement) and there are no issues as to payment they will not need to use the new service and thus avoid any fees;
2. If the parent with care makes an application to the CMS, at the time the application is made he/she will have to pay a fee of £20 unless that applicant can prove that he/she is a victim of domestic violence or aged under 18 in which case the fee is waived;
3. Once an application has been made the CMS will calculate the amount available and if the parents agree the figures and are happy to make and receive payment directly (Direct Pay) then further fees can be avoided. Payment can be made by a number of methods including, but not limited to, standing order and direct debit. If a parent needs to protect personal details then a referral can be made to a money transfer service;
4. If a calculation for maintenance has been made and the parties do not agree the figures and/or there is concern that the maintenance will not be paid or on time then the CMS can enforce the payment of maintenance through a collection service. If the collection service is used to collect payment it will levy a 20% fee (added to the maintenance payment) on the paying parent – the idea being to give a strong incentive to pay directly, in full and on time. The parent with care will also have to pay a fee of 4% which will be deducted from the
maintenance they receive on the child’s behalf.
This new child maintenance regime is part of the Government’s overall policy where separated parents are to be encouraged to make their own decisions in respect of their children. It remains to be seen whether this new scheme will be more successful.
As before there are concerns over the calculation of maintenance but that is something for another blog post.
Celia Conrad, 23 May 2014