Child maintenance is a form of payment from one parent, who is no longer the child’s primary carer, to the other. It is intended to be put towards the day-to-day costs of raising a child.
After a separation, when child maintenance needs to be arranged, parents of the child concerned may still be on good terms with each other. Since 2008 it has been possible, if both parties are like-minded and are not hostile, to draw up a private arrangement to resolve outstanding financial matters, without the help of the Child Support Agency (CSA).
Avoiding the involvement of the CSA through civilised negotiation can be the easiest, most painless method of arranging child maintenance. These agreements can be tailored to personal circumstances, and can be individually sculpted to the parent’s distinct situation. Avoiding the involvement of legal authorities grants the parents more flexibility in their negotiations.
Often, after an arrangement is made, personal circumstances change. If this happens, it is possible to renegotiate a personal arrangement, but if any disagreement arises it will be necessary to involve the CSA. If the conditions of the arrangement are not upheld it is essential to involve the CSA to resolve the dispute.
When making a personal arrangement there are a number of factors to consider:
A verbal personal arrangement is not legally binding, so the primary carer of the child may seek further security. It is advisable to put the agreement in writing and have both parties sign the document; however a signed written agreement is still not legally binding. The only way to make a personal arrangement a legal obligation is by obtaining a consent order.
A consent order would turn all conditions of the maintenance arrangement into legally binding obligations. If either party does not honour the arrangement the courts have the power to pursue the parent paying maintenance and demand the payment. This provides the primary carer with complete safety and peace of mind if there were any doubts that the other parent was not fully committed to the payments.
Once a consent order has been granted the parents cannot utilise the help of the CSA for a further 12 months. Because of this it is advisable that any arrangement is fully considered and agreed upon, as any discrepancy or disagreement will have no chance of being resolved within the following year.
It is common to enlist the help of the CSA when going through a divorce or separation, or if one of the parties does not intend to support the parent with primary care of the child. The CSA establishes a maintenance arrangement independently. It will also define the size and frequency of the payments.
The CSA is responsible for all child maintenance payments and much of their work is in identifying parents who are not paying support. When such a parent is identified it is the CSA’s obligation to take them to court. When in court there are orders that can be granted to ensure the parent does not continue to avoid support payments, for example the money can be taken directly from their wages.
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