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Changes to child maintenance

It has been reported today that single parents in England, Wales and Scotland will be issued with letters advising them of the changes which are to be made to the operation of Child Support Agency in assessing, awarding and enforcing orders to pay child support.
Of most significance as far as press reports are concerned is the introduction of a 20% fee which will be added to the sum which the parent making the payment (the parent with whom the child does not permanently reside) must make if it is necessary for the Child Support Agency to carry out an assessment and make an award under the statutory regime. The parent receiving the payment would also require to make a payment to the Agency, which would amount to 4% of the sum which they received from their former partner.
The justification for the introduction of this charge is that it is intended to encourage parties to reach a voluntary agreement between themselves as to what sum the parent with whom the child does not reside should pay to their former partner. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the announcement has caused dismay among parents who currently receive child support. It has been suggested that a voluntary agreement is simply not realistic in many cases due to the nature of the breakdown of the relationship.
It is within the power of parties to agree between themselves what is to be paid by way of child support at present. Parties may quite understandably be concerned about how such an agreement would be enforced if their former partner refused to adhere to it.. However, once properly formalized in writing, an agreement which deals with the amount of child support to be paid by one party to another can be enforced against the other party to the agreement. Under the present rules the amount which one party has agreed to pay to the other in child support cannot be challenged for a period of 1 year from the last date on which the agreement is signed. After that I year period has expired, a party then may apply to the Child Support Agency for a maintenance calculation to be made. If neither party makes an application the agreement continues to be enforceable.
It should also be noted that parties can enter into an agreement in circumstances where a child maintenance calculation can be or has been made by the CSA.
In light of the forthcoming changes it is in parties’ interests, now more so than ever, to explore the possibility of entering into a voluntary but enforceable arrangement for the payment of child support. In doing so they will incur the initial expense of setting up the agreement but will hopefully avoid the ongoing charges which are to be levied where maintenance is dealt with by the new statutory system.
Should you have any further questions regarding child support or, indeed, require advice on any Family Law issue please do not hesitate to contact our Family Law Team.