Last week we looked at how separating parents can sort out maintenance arrangements for their children.

Often, however, the maintenance is not paid. The Department for Work and Pensions state that around 10,000 parents a year wilfully refuse to pay child maintenance. In such cases enforcement action has to be taken against the paying parent.

But enforcement can take a long time, leaving the receiving parent struggling for money.

A new system is now to be introduced that should make the enforcement process considerably quicker.

When child maintenance is not paid the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) will try to recover the arrears by a Deduction from Earnings Order, which will take an amount towards the arrears from the paying parent’s earnings, or by making deductions from the paying parent’s bank account.

However, these methods of enforcement are not always successful, or even possible, such as where the paying parent is self-employed.

In such a case the CMS can use other methods of enforcement, such as asking a bailiff to seize goods from the paying parent to cover the arrears, taking away the paying parent’s driving licence, or even having them sent to prison.

But these other methods can only be used after a liability order has been made against the paying parent.

Until now a liability order had to be made by a Magistrates’ Court, a process that could take nearly six months.

To reduce that time the government is introducing a new system of ‘administrative liability orders’, which can be made by the CMS itself, rather than the court.

It is expected that administrative liability orders will be made in as little as six to eight weeks.

The paying parent will be given 7 days’ notice of the CMS’s intention to make an administrative liability order. Where the paying parent pays the whole amount of the arrears within the 7 day period, the administrative liability order will not come into force.

The administrative liability order will be discharged where the maintenance calculation on which the order is based (the amount of arrears) has changed since the order was made.

The paying parent will be able to appeal to a court against the decision to make the administrative liability order, within 21 days from the date that the order is made.

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When parents separate they will obviously have to sort out maintenance arrangements for their children. But how do they go about this?

The simple answer is that they should agree arrangements between themselves. But that raises further questions: How do they agree arrangements? And what if they can’t agree?

How to agree child maintenance

The parents can agree arrangements (who should pay child maintenance and how much they should pay) between themselves, or with the help of lawyers.

As to who should pay, the simple answer is that the parent with whom the children will spend less time (often referred to as the ‘non-resident parent’) will pay child maintenance to the other parent (often referred to as the ‘parent with care’).

As to how much they should pay, they can agree any figure they wish, but will often be guided by the amount that the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) would require the non-resident parent to pay. This is calculated by reference to a formula, and you can find an online calculator here.

If the parents are getting divorced then then can include the maintenance agreement in the final court order setting out the financial settlement. It should be noted, however, that after one year has elapsed from the date of the order either party can then apply to the CMS for a maintenance assessment, which may obviously be for a different amount to the sum that was agreed.

If maintenance can’t be agreed

If the parents are unable to agree child maintenance arrangements then they may make an application to the CMS.

The CMS offers two levels of service: ‘Direct Pay’ and ‘Collect and Pay’.

‘Direct Pay’ is where the CMS calculates the amount of maintenance, but the payments are made directly between the parents, who will agree how and when the payments are made. There are no collection fees (see below) to be paid, but if a payment is missed, the parent with care can request the CMS to chase the non-resident parent.

‘Collect and Pay’ is where the CMS calculates the maintenance, collects it, and passes on the payments to the parent with care. The CMS charges a collection fee for using this service. The fee is 20% (which is added to the payment) for the non-resident parent, and 4% (which is taken off the payment) for the parent with care.

The above is only a brief introduction to the subject of child maintenance. For further details, seek expert legal advice. We can find you an expert that works with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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The Child Poverty Action Group (‘CPAG’) has published its latest Cost of a Child report, showing what it costs to raise a child to age 18, based on what the public thinks is a minimum standard of living.

The report says that the overall cost of a child (including rent and childcare) is £150,753 for a couple and £183,335 for a lone parent.

Note that this is a minimum. For most parents, the actual cost is likely to be considerably higher.

Note also that the figure is higher for lone parents (including, of course, those who have separated from the other parent), due to the increased difference that the presence of a child makes to a single adult’s budget, compared to the difference a child makes to a couple’s budget.

The report serves as a reminder of the importance of ensuring that proper financial provision is made for any dependent children when their parents separate. This does not necessarily just mean that the non-resident parent should pay the appropriate amount of child maintenance. Special expenses such as school fees will also need to be considered. And if the non-resident parent is on a particularly high income then it may be necessary to go to court to obtain an order ‘topping up’ the amount that the Child Maintenance Service requires them to pay.

As the CPAG report indicates, the total cost of raising a child can be enormous. Accordingly, if you are a parent with care of children it is essential that you receive proper advice as to what the other parent should be paying. Family Law Cafe can help you find that advice. To contact us click the Contact link above and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

You can read the full CPAG report here.

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Confused by the jargon? Family law, just like all other areas of law, is full of legal jargon, so here are some plain English definitions for some of the terms that you are likely to come across if you are involved in family court proceedings:

Arbitration – A process whereby the parties agree that their case will be decided by a trained arbitrator. For further details, see this post.

Ancillary Relief – An older term for Financial Remedies – see below.

Cafcass – The ‘Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service’ – look after the interests of children involved in family court proceedings.

Child Arrangements Order – An order setting out arrangements relating to with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact, and when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person. For further details, see this post.

Clean Break – A financial settlement that dismisses all financial claims (in particular for maintenance) by either spouse against the other, thus achieving a ‘clean break’ between the parties.

Consent Order – A court order made with the agreement of both parties. Usually refers to an order setting out an agreed financial settlement following divorce. Note that the order must still be approved by the court, which is not obliged to approve it merely because the parties agree.

Co-Respondent – The person named by the Petitioner as having committed adultery with the Respondent. The Co-Respondent is a party to the divorce proceedings.

Cross Petition – A document filed by a Respondent to a divorce who wishes to defend the divorce and petition themselves, alleging that the breakdown of the marriage was due to a different reason to that alleged by the Petitioner.

Decree Absolute – The order finalising the divorce.

Decree Nisi – The order stating that the Petitioner (or the Respondent, in the case of a divorce proceeding on a cross petition) is entitled to the divorce.

Desertion – Separation without consent or good reason, and where the deserting spouse has no intention of returning. Desertion is actually very rare.

Directions – Orders of the court, usually setting out how the case will proceed.

Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment – A hearing within an financial remedies application, at which the parties should use their best endeavours to settle the matter by agreement, with the help of the judge.

Financial Remedies – The financial settlement in connection with divorce proceedings.

Injunction – An order requiring a party to do, or to refrain from doing, certain acts. In family law, most commonly refers to orders restraining domestic violence or abuse.

Irretrievable Breakdown (of marriage) – The ground for divorce. Must be shown by proving adultery, unreasonable behaviour (see below), two years’ desertion (see above), two years’ separation with the other party’s consent, or five years’ separation. For further details, see this post.

MIAM – A ‘Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting’. A meeting at which it is assessed whether the case is suitable for mediation (see below). In most cases, it is necessary to attend a MIAM before making an application to the court.

Mediation – A process whereby a trained mediator will help couples agree arrangements for children and/or a financial settlement.

Non-Resident Parent (‘NRP’) – The parent with whom the child or children is/are not residing. A term usually used in connection with child support.

Parental Responsibility – For an explanation of what parental responsibility means, see this post, and for details of how it is acquired, see this post.

Parent With Care (‘PWC’) – The parent with whom the child or children is/are living. A term usually used in connection with child support.

Periodical payments – Another term for maintenance.

Pension Sharing Order – An order transferring all or part of one party’s pension to the other party. For further information, see this post.

Pension Attachment Order – An order stating that one party will receive part of the other party’s pension when the other party receives it. Again, for further information, see this post.

Petitioner – The party who issues the divorce proceedings.

Property Adjustment Order – An order adjusting the ownership of matrimonial property, for example increasing a party’s share in the matrimonial home from 50% to 75%.

Respondent – The party who did not issue the proceedings. Note that the Respondent to an application for financial remedies could also be the Petitioner in the divorce proceedings.

Unreasonable Behaviour – Behaviour by one party such that the other party cannot reasonably be expected to live with them. This is one of the five ways of proving that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, for the purpose of divorce proceedings. For further details, see this post.

Without Prejudice – Words used in an offer of settlement to ensure that the offer cannot be shown to the court if it is not accepted. If the offer is accepted the protection of ‘without prejudice’ is gone.

Of course, if you are in any doubt as to what a word or phrase means, then you should seek legal advice.

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Cohabiting couples do not have the same rights as married couples when their relationship breaks down (there is no such thing as a “common law marriage”). In particular, they cannot ask the court for maintenance for themselves or to adjust ownership of property, in the same way as can be done in a financial settlement following divorce.

So what legal rights do cohabitees have?

The first thing to say is that cohabitees have similar rights to married couples in respect of arrangements for children and child maintenance. They can apply to a court for an order setting out the arrangements, such as with whom the children should live, and they can apply to the Child Maintenance Service for child support maintenance for the children.

If there are any children then the parent looking after them can also apply to the court for an order for financial provision for them. This provision can take various forms, but the most common type of order is one allowing the parent and child to occupy a property, such as the property where the parties lived together, until such time as the child grows up or ceases full-time education. Note that such an order will not have any bearing upon the ownership of the property. Accordingly, if the property belongs solely to the other parent, then it will revert to them when the order has run its term.

The general rule regarding property on cohabitation breakdown is that it will remain with whoever owns it. Accordingly if for example the house in which the parties lived is owned then what happens to it depends upon what the deeds say. Thus if the deeds say it is owned jointly in equal shares then each party will be entitled to half. On the other hand if the deeds say it belongs to just one of the parties, then that party will be entitled to the entire property. What the deeds say will be followed unless the other party can successfully show that they are entitled to a share, or a greater share, for example because there was an agreement to that effect. Such claims can be very difficult to prove.

If necessary a party claiming a share in a property can apply to a court for an order that the property be sold, so that they can realise that share.

The above is only a very brief summary of what can be a very complex area of law. If you require further details Family Law Café can help. To contact us click the Contact link above and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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There are a number of possible financial orders that the court can make on divorce. The most common types of orders are the following:

Maintenance orders, also called ‘periodical payments’ orders, requiring one spouse to pay maintenance to the other spouse. The maintenance may be for a fixed time, or until the receiving spouse should remarry.

Lump sum orders, requiring one spouse to pay a lump sum of money to the other spouse. The order will state by when the money should be paid.

Property adjustment orders, adjusting the ownership of property, for example transferring the former matrimonial home from the joint names of both parties into the sole name of one of the parties.

Orders for sale of property, for example ordering that the former matrimonial home should be sold. The court will also order what should happen to the net proceeds of sale of the property.

Pension sharing orders, ordering that all or part of one party’s pension should be transferred into a pension in the other party’s name.

Note that the court can also make a child maintenance order, where the maintenance is agreed. If the maintenance is not agreed then the parent with care of the children will have to make a child support maintenance application to the Child Maintenance Service.

If you would like any further advice about financial orders on divorce, or about what orders may be appropriate in your case, Family Law Café can help. To contact us click the Contact link above and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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