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What Is Child Maintenance?

By Solicitor, Family

Ex-Tottenham player Jamie O’Hara is reportedly facing jail after he has been accused of failing to pay nearly £30,000 in child maintenance fees to the mother of his child, Danielle Lloyd.

This battle for regular child maintenance payments is sadly not just a celebrity problem and something many parents face. 

What is child maintenance?

The monthly payment is usually made by the parent without the day-to-day care of a child. The payment covers things such as housing, clothes and food etc. and is usually paid directly to the parent who lives with the child.

The amount is then calculated depending on the parent’s income and the figure can be determined by using the government’s child maintenance calculator:

https://www.gov.uk/calculate-your-child-maintenance

If both parents cannot agree on what the amount should be, a government agency, called the Child Maintenance Service, can step in and help. The Child Maintenance Service is responsible for ensuring that both parents are covering the necessary costs for the child, especially ensuring the parent who does not live with the child is contributing the correct amount on a regular bases.

They will carry out an assessment to formally calculate the amount of child maintenance that should be paid, based on the parent’s income. To establish this, they will use some form of financial information, such as a copy of the paying parent’s P60.

What if the paying parent does not pay?

In the event that the paying parent does not pay and has not given any explanation as to why or reassurance that they will, the Child Maintenance Service has the authority to make sure regular payments are made, with a ‘collection action’.

This action can be made without a court order and can be collected in one of the following ways. The Child Maintenance Service, will:

  • Take money directly from the paying parent’s earnings.
  • Take money directly from the paying parent’s bank, building society or post office account.

If this still fails to work, or the agency feels this is not suitable and the money is still owed, then enforcement powers can be applied through the courts.

In this instance, the Child Maintenance Service will ask the court for a Liability Order. This order requires the court to recognise that the paying parent has an amount of outstanding child maintenance to settle, which has accrued over a period of time.

If granted, it gives them the power to take legal action to obtain the money that is owed. They can then implement the following actions:

  1. Bailiffs can seize assets from their home and sell them to cover the costs of the missing child maintenance. They can also put in a charge against that parent to make sure they cannot sell or re-mortgage their property without paying the outstanding debt.
  2. Force the sale of the paying parent’s property or other asset and collect the money from the sale.
  3. Take away the paying parent’s driving license.
  4. Send the paying parent to prison.
  5. The paying parent may also have to pay for such enforcement actions to take place. For example, there is a one off charge of £50 if the Child Maintenance Service has to take money directly from their earnings or if they have to take regular amounts directly from their bank. There is a £200 fee if a lump sum has to be taken directly from their bank and a £300 fee if they have to set up and make an application for a Liability Order.

Are there other times that legal action can be taken?

It is important to note that there are a number of other times when the Child Maintenance Service can take legal action. These indirectly relate to the paying parent not paying child maintenance, or more specifically not paying enough child maintenance. Unfortunately, it is common place that some may avoid being transparent about their income to avoid paying the correct rate of maintenance.

Legal action can be taken if:

  1. A paying parent avoids paying child maintenance by not providing information when asked for it.
  2. If they provide information they know not to be true.
  3. If they knowingly allow untrue information to be provided.
  4. If they do not tell report when their circumstances have changed. For example, if their income increases.
  5. If the Child Maintenance Service suspects that the paying parent is disposing of, or have already disposed of, a valuable asset to stop the Child Maintenance Service enforcing the child maintenance that they owe.

It is of upmost importance that the paying parent provides full and frank information to make sure that the correct amount of information needs to be paid. In the event that the paying party attempts to evade paying the correct amount of maintenance or evades paying maintenance at all, then there are avenues that the Child Maintenance Service can take to ensure that child maintenance is paid, or that any child maintenance debt that has be accrued is paid in full. These actions are often at further cost of the paying party.

Please note that the above information applies to England and Wales. The powers of the Child Maintenance Service vary in Scotland.

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