For many women going through a divorce or breakup, sorting out child support can be one of the most difficult issues. If your divorce is amicable and/or you can agree arrangements between you it’s a different matter, but if you have to get the Child Maintenance Service involved you may face a complex process.
Child support; the basics
The amount one parent may have to pay to another takes into account how many children you have, how much time they spend with each parent and how much the parent paying maintenance earns.
SAVVY TIP: Try and understand the jargon, and don’t be put off by it. For example, even if you and your ex want to share child care equally, the Child Maintenance Service will still want to label one of you as the paying parent and the other as the receiving parent. So if one of you has looked after your child(ren) for only one more day than the other in the last 12 months, that person will be the receiving parent.
How much child support might I receive or pay?
If you decide to sort out child support between you, using what’s called a ‘family based arrangement’, you can work out what you believe is fair. But it’s worth knowing how the Child Maintenance Service’s formula for child support works. There are different tiers of percentages that are used and these are based on how many children you have. The parent who’s paying child maintenance will have different percentages applied depending on his or her earnings.
Find out more in my article How much child maintenance should I pay and how is it paid?
Factors that may reduce the maintenance your ex pays
There is a separate system hidden behind the main formula of the Child Maintenance Service that can have a major impact on the level of maintenance. There are several reasons why the paying parent may pay less than these percentages, including:
1. He/she has to pay significant costs – usually £15 per week or more – maintaining contact with his/her child or children.
2. He/she has to pay towards costs associated with the long-term illness or disability of another child living with him/her.
3. He/she has to make debt payments on debts incurred for the joint benefit of both parents or the child.
SAVVY TIP: There are lots of exceptions: fines, credit cards, legal costs, business-related debts, money owed to friends or family, or a bank overdraft will not count.
4. He/she is paying boarding school fees for the child. The rules are a bit complicated as only the boarding element (and if that’s not clear then up to 35% of the fees) can count to reduce the payments, but never by more than 50%.
5. He/she is paying the mortgage on your home (this only applies if he/she doesn’t have a share or interest in the property).
SAVVY TIP: These expenses don’t directly reduce the amount of child maintenance your ex has to pay. Instead they’re taken off his/her income, so every £1 of debt repayments would reduce the maintenance paid for one child by, say, 12 pence.
Factors that may increase maintenance payments
Just as some expenses reduce the amount your ex may have to pay, he may be asked to pay more. For example:
1. Your ex has assets worth more than £65,000. If this is the case, they are assumed to earn 8% net income (even if they don’t earn anything at all).
2. Your ex has a lifestyle at odds with declared income. You have to be able to show that there’s a difference between the two.
SAVVY TIP: If you think your ex is under-declaring his/her income, you should apply to the tribunal, which could investigate his finances pretty thoroughly. However, it wouldn’t do this if your ex’s lifestyle was paid for out of his capital or borrowing or by his/her partner (and he/she had no obvious control over how his/her partner’s resources were spent).
3. Your ex has additional income resources that aren’t otherwise taken into account in the calculations (but very tight restrictions apply to this category).
4. Your ex has unreasonably reduced or diverted his/her income.
SAVVY TIP: All these categories have all sorts of exceptions and conditions and it’s important that you get information from an expert if you think you may qualify.
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