As from today, the Child Maintenance Service will be charging for its services in assessing and implementing claims for child support.
Applicants seeking maintenance will be charged a one-off fee of £20 when they make their application. The charges have angered many who feel that maintenance can be inadequate and that administrational problems at the agency’s predecessors (CMEC and CSA) mean that the service offered is not always worthy of a fee, especially if maintenance is lost as a result. It is hoped that the charges will encourage more parents to agree maintenance between themselves on a voluntary basis, rather than automatically approaching the CSA.
In August, additional fees will be brought in, whereby if enforcement measures are required in the event of non-payment of child support both parents are charged to fund the service. The paying parent will have a 20% levy added to their standard maintenance payment, and the parent receiving the payment will have 4% of their payments deducted, making the overall cost to the family noticeably more. It is hoped that the new charges will encouraged paying parents to make their maintenance payments on time as and per the maintenance calculation/assessment, but many fear that the measures will not prove as effective as hoped.
As we have previously explained on the blog, the newest child maintenance formula is complex, and has a large number variables, making the overall range of possible percentages for a calculation somewhere in the region of 20.
The service has produced a new website aimed at helping people to understand the calculations and reach an agreement between themselves, if possible. The first point of call for any parent wondering about their child maintenance position (whether as payer or payee) should be the Child Maintenance Options website. The website also offers guidance on the assessment process from start to finish, including how to seek variations and/or appeal an assessment.
It is perfectly common for divorce lawyers to address the issue of maintenance as part of discussions about a financial settlement on divorce, however it is important to remember that fees must be kept proportionate to what is in dispute. For example, where the dispute is over a small amount of money it is unlikely to be worth incurring significant fees in lawyers arguing over the payment, and will be more cost-effective to reach an agreement, or approach the CMS.
There are of course always complex cases where legal advice is both necessary and cost effective. A good family lawyer will always be honest about the extent to which advice is likely to be cost-effective, so that clients can make an informed choice about the best way forward. Anyone who thinks they could benefit from guidance regarding child maintenance, whether as a stand-alone issue or as part of a separation or divorce can contact one of our family law team, to discuss their options.
Cara Nuttall is a Family & Children Law Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.
Slater and Gordon offer flexible pricing for family legal services, see Child Law & Finances for more information.
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