A separation or divorce is physically, emotionally and financially draining. Both parties will need to adapt to a range of changes that can cause a lot of strain. This is especially challenging where kids are involved.
Separation, divorce or dissolution of civil unions where children are not involved is relatively easy; simply divvy up the assets and move on. However, when children come into play, the process becomes more difficult. The process is even trickier if the children involved are really young.
As the divorce process progresses, there is a need to discuss sensitive issues such as children custody and the financial responsibilities involved. Custodial rights often refer to the responsibilities given to the parent with whom the children will reside.
The custodial parent is the primary caretaker, and is responsible for the daily needs of the child. The non-custodial parent will have access to the child whenever they want (or as agreed upon), but will be expected to contribute towards the children’s daily expenses. This contribution is often referred to as child support of child maintenance.
Child maintenance can be a fairly complicated matter, regardless of how amicable the divorce process is. The partial replacement of Child Support Agency responsibilities with Child Maintenance Service makes an already complicated process even more challenging to understand.
The Costs of Child Maintenance
Child support or child maintenance is usually paid to the custodial parent. Any parent (mother or father) can be granted custody depending on the abilities of the said party to provide a safe and secure environment for the children.
Note that mothers are often granted custodial rights when the children are of a tender age. However, as the child grows up, the custodial rights can be given to either parent, or the wishes of the child come into play.
In the case of a mutual agreement, as in any other divorce, separation or dissolution case, the principle of best interests of the child is enforced.
Both parties have to agree on who will stay with the child, discuss the terms of access for the non-custodial parent as well as agree on how the living and educational costs of the children will be met.
The amount payable in child maintenance is often dependent on the income of the non-custodial parent. Let’s look at the basic child maintenance payment structure.
|Weekly Income||Weekly Amount Payable|
|Less than £5||Nothing|
|£5 to £100||Flat rates of 5 for all children|
|£100 – £200||5 flat rate and 25% of after-tax income for the 1st child, 35% for two and 45% for three or more children|
|More than £200||15% of after tax income for one child, 20% for two and 25% for three or more children|
If the non-custodial parent also helps with childcare, the aforementioned amounts change accordingly. For example, if the non-custodial parent spends a few days of the week with the children, s/he will only pay for the rest of the days not spent with the kids.
Couples are welcome to use the child support calculator to get a rough amount due in child maintenance. This can, however, be tricky when the non-custodial parent fails to declare all earnings, especially cash income from self-employment.
Child support is paid until the children are 16 years (or 20 years old if they are in full time education and only up to A-levels or equivalent). The parent is under no obligation to fund the children through university.
Private school costs can be a serious issue if not handled well. If the custodial parent wants the child to study in a private school but the non-custodial parent advocates for a local comprehensive institution, this could end up in court.
What Happens To the Family Home?
Following the principle of best interests of the child, parents should ensure that the children have a roof over their head. As such, the parent with custodial rights is allowed to stay in the family house until such a time that the child is no longer dependent.
Contrary to what non-resident parents may think, the family house cannot be sold and proceeds split. If anything, the non-resident parent will have to keep up their end of mortgage payments until such a time the children are no longer dependent and the house can be sold.
The situation gets more complicated when either or both partners get into new relationships. If the custodial parent gets a new partner, the other parent’s child maintenance obligations will still hold.
The custodial parent will still live in the family house with the children. However, the spousal maintenance allowance ceases when the custodial parent cohabits with a new partner or remarries.
If the paying parent gets into a new relationship with a partner who has children from another relationship and they all live together, the payments for the upkeep of own children reduces.
If the custodial parent cohabits with a new partner then separates, there are little spousal allowance rights to be evoked. However, child support should still be remitted by the paying parent.
Where Child Support Agency Comes In
The government encourages couples to make and commit to family based arrangements. This only works if the parties involved are in amicable terms. Bitter separations or divorces do not allow amicable family based arrangement, hence the need to involve the government.
Child Support Agency can help warring parents come to an agreement of how much should be paid, by whom and when. This agreement is enforceable by law should either party fail to honor it.
Note that CSA is only involved where the income of the paying parent is up to £2,000 a week. If the paying parent earns more, the custodial parent can apply to the court for assessment and additional maintenance.
When one partner lives or works abroad, the court has the powers to enforce any child maintenance application. The EU Maintenance Regulation of 2008 allows this enforcement. The UK has reciprocal agreement with countless other countries.
Child maintenance costs are pretty high – could go up to £250,000 by the time the child gets to 18 years, according to a research conducted by Liverpool Victoria Insurance. In order to adequately provide for the child(ren), both parents should share the responsibilities of raising a family, at least financially