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Child Maintenance 12 month rule - fair or creating uncertainty? Cally Griffiths discusses

Many clients find it hard to understand why after detailed discussions and negotiations, (even if an agreement is reached in relation to child maintenance) why it is only binding for a period of 12 months.

If a figure for child maintenance has been agreed, it will generally be recorded in an agreement called a Consent order. This is lodged with the court for approval. The parties then have a legally binding court order to regulate their finances. Most practioners would agree that the aim of such an order is to create certainty for the parties and to leave them in a financial position of security to allow them to plan for the future. Strangely this is true for all clauses except child maintenance. Even if parties specify that maintenance should continue at a certain level or increase at a certain rate in the future after a period of 12 months either party could apply to the Child Support Agency (now C-MEC ) for an assessment of the child maintenance liability.

This could lead to a very different sum from that in the order being paid. The rational behind such a provision was to prevent couples from agreeing deals with unacceptably low child maintenance contributions. The result is that it takes away clients ability to agree a level of maintenance that works for them and their family and forces them to agree to the child support rates even if these are not particularly appropriate in their circumstances.

There are calls for this rule to be removed to allow parties the right to determine the correct level of child maintenance should they so wish to do so. The coalition government has expressed an interest in reviewing this but in times of financial hardship it is difficult to see where the funds or the pressure to revoke such a rule would come from.