The issue of shared care is one of the most difficult areas left within the child maintenance remit.
Sadly, although the courts maintain that issues over arrangements for where children should live, and the number of nights that they spend with each of their respective parents, is not influenced by financial factors, this is untrue for the parents themselves.
It is important that when agreeing a shared care arrangement the parent who has less overnight contact is aware of the burden of providing child support and how that will be worked out.
In a recent case, where a father was supposed to have his children for 172 - 173 nights a year according to his consent order for shared residence but instead had his children overnight for 176 nights of the year due to the complexities of the arrangement and where holidays fell, the extra night’s overnight contact had a big impact. By pushing him over the 175 night mark it could have radically affected his liability for child support.
Making one parent have all the responsibility for child support maintenance in a situation where there is a shared residence agreement between parents is often very unfair.
Sometimes the parent who has the children one or two nights per annum more than the other is also the major breadwinner, yet the other parent may end up with a responsibility for maintenance to the higher-earning parent.
To help combat this, parents should keep careful records of the amount of time spent overnight with their children.
Parents should also know that whatever agreement is reached the other parent has the right to go to the Child Maintenance Service after 12 months, even if a court order is made for maintenance.
Discretion is particularly needed in this area of child maintenance and discretion needs be given to the tribunals in such circumstances to achieve fairness.
Liz Cowell is a family law solicitor at Slater and Gordon. She also sits as a deputy district judge which enables her to keep up to date with the latest judicial developments in family law.
You can call the expert children law solicitors at Slater and Gordon Lawyers on freephone 0800 916 9055 or contact us online.