We are all experiencing the ongoing consequences of the national health pandemic, and many are facing salary cuts and redundancy.
If you are a non-resident parent, this may leave you worrying about how to meet your obligation to pay child maintenance. The legal position, and what you can do, depends on how you are currently making payments.
Scenario One – Voluntary Payments
You and the other parent may have a voluntary agreement on the amount you pay. If so, we suggest the first step is to contact the other parent and notify them of the change in your circumstance and put forward a plan for how much you can pay and when. It may also help reassure the other parent if you suggest a date on which the payments can be reviewed, subject to your pay increasing at a later date or when you expect to obtain new employment.
In the event you and the other parent cannot agree, it is open to either of you to ask the Child Maintenance Service to carry out an assessment. A useful tool is the Child Maintenance Calculator, which can be accessed here: https://www.gov.uk/calculate-child-maintenance
Scenario Two – Payments through the Child Maintenance Service
You should notify the Child Maintenance Service immediately of any change in your circumstances. You may need to provide documentary evidence of your change in earnings or change in employment. Your payments may be reduced for a period, and you will receive a payment schedule with the new amount.
Further information can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/manage-child-maintenance-case or by contacting the Child Maintenance Service by telephone.
We suggest notifying the other parent that you have contacted the Child Maintenance Service, so that they are prepared there might be a change in payments.
Scenario Three – Payments under a court order
If you and the other parent are divorced, you may have a court order which sets out how and when child maintenance payments will be made. In the event the court order has been in place for over 12 months, it is open to either parent to apply to the child maintenance service for an assessment which would override the provision for child maintenance payments in the court order. You and the other parent can of course reach an agreement to change the payments, but any such agreement should be properly recorded. This is because you may otherwise be in breach of the court order if you make changes to the child maintenance payments.
Our top tip is not to reduce or stop payments without telling the other parent. This may cause panic and suspicion on their part, and increases the risk that the other parent will seek to enforce child maintenance payments through the appropriate method.
If you are unsure of where you stand legally, or if you require assistance reaching an agreement with the other parent as to the appropriate level of child maintenance payments, you should seek legal advice.
This article does not cover the scenario of payments made under Schedule 1 of the Children Act.
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