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Kirsten Grotte discusses future Child Support Agency changes

The Government has recently announced that there will be radical changes made to the current Child Support Agency (CSA) also known as CMEC. It is intended that the changes will encourage separated parents to take a ‘family-centred’ approach to agreeing child maintenance between themselves.

It appears that the CSA now wish to be considered as a ‘last resort’ for helping parents make arrangements in respect of child maintenance. Instead parents will be encouraged to make their own arrangements themselves. The CSA will basically be firing a warning shot that if own arrangements cannot be made, then an applicant parent will be charged approximately £100 if they wish to involve the CSA in the calculation, collection and distribution of child maintenance. This also includes parents who receive state benefits, however they will be charged £50.

A collection charge will also be incurred by the non-resident parent (the parent who is obliged to pay child maintenance) to help with the cost of the service provided by the CSA. As if there weren’t enough charges already on top of the increase in everyday expenses that people are trying to cope with?!

There is an option that for separated parents where domestic violence is apparent and where they cannot be expected to sit down and attempt to make amicable arrangements, that their case will be fast tracked through the CSA and no charges will be incurred. Whilst this makes sense initially, surely old bad habits will re-appear within the CSA as this leaves any parent to potentially make false allegations of domestic violence, so as to get a quicker service and without having to pay. This could lead to the floodgates opening and the CSA being once again inundated with claims. It will be interesting to see what the criteria will be to satisfy this channel.

Currently, one of the main problems that exist between the CSA and separated parents with children is that maintenance can dictate the amount of contact the non-resident parent has with their child. The more overnight contact the non-resident parent has the less maintenance they have to pay with the current calculations. This can therefore lead to a situation where the resident parent refuses to allow extra overnight contact, not because there are welfare concerns, but purely because of monetary reasons. Equally the non-resident parent could push for more overnight contact, even if it is not practical or in the best interests of the child, to try and limit their payment of child maintenance.

It is hoped that the new charges for a CSA application for maintenance will instead encourage parents to work together to resolve issues before rushing off to rely on a government agency to intervene and thereafter be used as a tool to dictate contact thereafter.