Child maintenance – a guide to recent developments
As many readers will be aware, the Child Support Agency (or CSA
as is often more commonly referred to) is no more, having been
replaced by the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission
(often referred to as C-Mec or the Commission).
If you made a maintenance claims prior to 2008, it will still be
dealt with by the CSA; however post-2008 claims are handled by
Child Maintenance Options Service (CMOS) whose role will be to
assist and support parents in making private agreements. Over the
next 3-4 years it is intended all claims will be dealt with by the
What has happened since the Commission opened for
The main change which has happened since the Commission came
into force (1st November 2008) is that it is no longer 'compulsory'
for those in receipt of benefits to make a claim against the
Under the previous scheme when an application was made for
Income Support, for example, a claim was also submitted to the CSA.
That is no longer the case. The resident parent can choose to make
a private arrangement or elect to seek assistance.
In addition and perhaps of greater importance to those in
receipt of benefits is that, since 12 April 2010, the resident
parent may keep the whole of the benefit without it being deducted
from their income.
What does the Future hold for those seeking Assistance?
It is intended that the Commission will have greater enforcement
powers in order to ensure the money goes to where it should - for
the benefit of the children.
The intention of the Commission is to encourage parents to reach
private agreements. The initial enquiry will be made to the
"Gateway" where staff will discuss the options: can the parents
reach an agreement themselves? If so, they may benefit from
assistance with the 'calculation service' or the CMOS.
You may proceed through the Gateway if an agreement has been
tried and failed, or if there is a history of domestic violence,
and make a formal application.
An agreement is unlikely to be legally binding - so why
It is hoped by the Commission that by signing an agreement the
parents are going to stick to it.
This of course is not always the case especially when dealing
with a difficult ex-partner or if separation has just occurred and
one parent is finding it difficult to speak to the other parent. In
these circumstances the resident parent will go back to the Gateway
and will most probably pass through to the formal application
The calculation of the amount of maintenance to be paid will
also change: it is designed to be fairer.
The calculation will be based on gross income at
12% (1 child), 16% (2 children) and 19% (3 or more children). Those
paying parents seeking to reduce their maintenance payments by
paying additional 'subs', trade union fees or more commonly putting
more money into their pensions will not be able to avoid paying the
In addition there will be a two-tier system for those higher
earners so that the percentage is not applied to the full
Making parents pay?
Perhaps the proposal which has caused the most controversy is
the intention to charge the parents for the service. The concern is
that this appears to be unfair to the parent who wants to agree
matters, when the other will not.
Those against this reform are critical that a reasonable party
will be penalised for the conduct of the other. In addition the
charge to the parent receiving the payment is deducted from the
maintenance, which is intended for the benefit of the children.
Ultimately it is likely a charge or fee scheme will be
introduced and those in favour of this believe it will encourage
more agreements and less application passing through the Gateway
and therefore freeing the Commission up to deal with