New rules of child maintenance

Child maintenance has changed.

A new scheme was introduced by the Child Support Agency, the body that controls and assesses child maintenance payments, changing the way maintenance is calculated.

The new rules finally came into force on 10 December 2012 and are set out in the Child Support Maintenance Calculations Regulations 2012 and Schedule 1 to the Child Support Act 1991, as amended.

The existing rules

Previously the non-resident parent would be ordered to pay a certain proportion of their net weekly income. This would range from 15% to 25% depending on the number of children.

Deductions would be made to this amount if the children stay overnight with the non-resident parent.

Any net monthly income over £2,000 was not previously taken into account.

What’s changed?

The new rules calculate a non-resident parent’s contribution based on their gross weekly income, up to a maximum of £3,000.

A distinction is also drawn between non-resident parents earning less than £800 gross per week and those earning more. A higher percentage of maintenance applies to the former.

New basic rates

The new basic rates are as follows:

Gross weekly income up to £800:
One child – 12%
Two children – 16%
Three or more children – 19%

Gross weekly income between £800 and £3,000:
One child – 9%
Two children – 12%
Three or more children – 15%

These rates are adjusted if the non-resident parent:

• has other children living with them
• is responsible for the maintenance of other children (e.g. under another child maintenance calculation or by private agreement)
• shares the care of the children in question with the resident parent

Sharing of care; a new assumption

If care is shared but the frequency cannot be agreed, a new assumption has been introduced.

The non-resident parent will have the children for one night per week, unless evidence is shown to the contrary.

If care can be shown to be shared entirely equally, the new rules state that there is no child support liability for either parent.

Applying to vary maintenance

The grounds on which the resident parent can apply to vary any maintenance order made have also been reduced.

The new rules currently only apply to new applicants for child support who have four or more children, all with the same non-resident parent.

Transferring to the new scheme

These rules are due to be extended to families with two children, and eventually to all new applicants; however, families to whom the rules do not yet apply will simply be placed in the existing scheme.

All existing families will also stay in the existing scheme for the time being, although the process to transfer to the new scheme is expected to commence in late 2013 or early 2014.

Until the child turns 20

Another significant change introduced by the new rules is that the liability to provide maintenance continues until the child turns 20 - provided they remain eligible for child benefit.

The old rules only provided for payments to be made whilst a child was 18 or under.

This change applies to all families in the CSA, not just those to whom the new rules apply.

How will the new rules affect you?

With some significant changes to the way maintenance payments are treated under the new scheme there will undoubtedly be a big financial impact on some parents.

Who do you think will benefit the most? And who will be the biggest losers?

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