How do we agree our child maintenance?

How do we agree our child maintenance?

In this article, Sharon Montgomery outlines the omissions in the Government’s potentially problematic new Child Maintenance Guides.

The Government, through the Department of Work & Pensions, has published a guide to help parents plan a conversation about child maintenance and assist parents in making these arrangements.

When parents separate, organising maintenance payments is important, and best dealt with by agreement. It is an area that can cause disagreement and, if not organised properly, can cause hardship for both parties and affect the children. On the face of it, a guide to assist is a good idea.

You can find links to the resources below:

Department for Work & Pensions: Planning your Child Maintenance Conversation (12 August 2019)

Department for Work & Pensions: Your Child Maintenance Arrangements (12 August 2019)

In the guide, under “Planning your Child Maintenance Conversation”, it is explained in straightforward language.

  1. “What you want to talk about”
  2. “How where and when do you want to talk” contains sensible advice and information.
  3. “Would you like anyone else to be there” offers the possibility of using a professional family mediator on how to find resources about family mediation. This is very good.
  4. “How would you like to explain your ideas” tries to encourage polite and sensible conversation and avoid conflict.

However, there are difficulties:

Currently, if people cannot agree their child maintenance arrangements, they need to make an application to the Child Maintenance Service. The guide has a link to a child maintenance calculator to assist people with this. It is clearly in the interest of the Government that applications are not made to the Child Maintenance Service because there is a cost to the Government, and sometimes also a cost to the parents.

However, there is no suggestion that seeking advice from a lawyer might be any part of this conversation. The guide says, “it does not cost anything to set up your own arrangements, no one else needs to get involved and you may be able to change your arrangement if circumstances change for either of you”.

First of all, the parents should be aware of the income of each other including any entitlement to benefits as well as discussing outgoings.

It would be easy for someone reading this guide to assume that they must use the child maintenance calculator and if they are not aware of the paying party’s proper income the calculation will be wrong.

It would also be easy when reading the guide to believe that if you were not to use the child maintenance calculator that you would be discussing matters that relate to the children since it refers to school uniform, social activities and food shopping. It also talks about “the everyday cost of raising your children”. It does not explain that this can include your mortgage payments and your gas bill.

Under the heading “if your arrangement stops working” it does not discuss the possibility of the payer refusing to make payments or making irregular or lower payments. It refers to obtaining help from a professional family mediator. This may be of help but not necessarily if one parent is refusing to pay their child maintenance. There is no reference to making an application to the Child Maintenance Service nor any reference to obtaining advice from a solicitor.

These are unacceptable omissions.

Whilst many parents are able to make their own arrangements by agreement, it is often with the framework of proper financial disclosure of income, a properly calculated child maintenance assessment and legal advice.