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Ten Top Tips for Sorting Out Maintenance

Children’s Maintenance

1. Parents are often in dispute about children’s maintenance following their separation or in other circumstances where there is a lack of trust. The mediation process can help parents form a parental alliance that does not rely on anything other than a mutual wish to hide hostility, share relevant information and make the best decisions for the children.

2. Legal aid for mediation is available depending only on financial eligibility and many people are surprised to find that they are eligible. If only one party is eligible, there is generous assistance in costs for the other party from the Legal Aid Agency.

3. Maintenance for children and arrangements for the time children spend with a parent often become intertwined.

It’s not uncommon for us to hear from one parent that they are not seeing the children, or that their time with the children has been cut down and so they won’t be paying maintenance. Of course, both parents are liable to maintain their children, but many parents fall out over these arrangements.

The Child Support Agency (CSA) is only operating for historic cases and all new referrals are dealt with by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). This service encourages parents to make their own child maintenance arrangements (family- based arrangements). For example, you could both agree that the paying parent pays:

  • a proportion of their income

  • for things like school clothes instead of giving money

  • a regular set amount directly to the parent with care

  • Children will benefit where parents are clear about who is providing for what and parents can comfortably share information about the children’s needs. Mediation can help parents to achieve this.

4. There is an online calculator for child maintenance to help parents work out what the Service would order if agreement cannot be reached.

If you want to apply to the CMS you must speak to Child Maintenance Options Service first. If the CMS make an order there is an application fee of £20 and then there is a fee each time you make or receive a payment:

  • paying parents will pay a 20% fee on top of their regular child maintenance payment

  • receiving parents will have a 4% fee deducted from their regular child maintenance payment

The CMS calculation takes no account of the income of the parent who has the children for the greater number of nights. The CMS will take into account the number of children the paying parent has to pay child maintenance for. This includes any other children living with them and any arrangements that have been made directly with an ex-partner. The CMS deals with children in full time education or training up to the age of 20 if living in the jurisdiction of England and Wales. They do not deal with step-children.

The calculation made by the CMS makes a deduction to the weekly child maintenance amount based on the average number of 'shared care' nights a week.

If the paying parent thinks that the arrangements are not the best and that the children should spend more nights with them, the receiving parent may see this as a ruse to have the maintenance reduced.

In a mediation process parents can share information about what they are spending on the children and discuss what financial needs the children have and how these will be shared between them so that the outcome is best for the children and fair to the parents.

Parents are able to reassure each other that the outcome is not about winning and losing and sometimes extra nights can be in the children’s best interests without the regular maintenance figure being changed.

5. Sometimes the paying parent is left with nothing left over to spend on the children and the receiving parent may well be eligible for child benefit and tax credits. This can lead to resentment in shared care cases. If each parent is looking after different children they can claim Child Benefit for them. But if both parents claim for the same child, only one of the parents will get Child Benefit for that child as it cannot be split.

In a mediation process the parents can look at all the options. Their proposals will take account of all the relevant factors e.g. financial needs of parents and children, earnings and earning abilities, claims for benefits.

There are huge advantages for the children if parents can reach agreement and reduce the animosity that they have been unable to hide.

6. Parents sometimes get very concerned if some of the child’s clothing or footwear or equipment or toys are “kept” at one of the parent’s homes as the other parent is not “trusted” to return them.

In the mediation process parents can discuss how the children’s needs change. It can be an expensive business buying age appropriate belongings. They discuss advantages and disadvantages of belongings being handed over as the children go to and fro between the parents. The children, rather than the dispute, become the focus of the discussion between the parents.

Spousal Maintenance

7. If the dispute is about spousal maintenance, a mediation financial dispute resolution process helps couples to make full financial disclosure to each other and to safely discuss all the relevant factors before making mutually acceptable proposals that can then be made legally binding swiftly.

For information on maintenance where you are married/in a civil partnership and contemplating separating, there is a really useful guide. There is a section about income and maintenance with some worked examples that the courts are familiar with.

8. Discussion in a mediation process often helps couples reach a “clean break solution” even where one of them may need financial support for a few years until say they have retrained or have reached a stage when they can work more hours because the children are older. Payments of income or lump sums by instalments can be negotiated with a full discussion about the respective standards of living and financial needs that can be anticipated. At the end of a mediation process there are no surprises in store as both parties have become expert in their own financial situation and know exactly how the budget will work, and who will pay for what.

9. In divorce settlements, income payments are always capable of variation where there is a substantial change in circumstances. Lump sum payments however, whether paid in instalments or not, are final and cannot be repeated.

10. In divorce settlements, income in retirement years should never be overlooked. In the mediation process, all pensions of both parties, and that includes state pension provision, are discussed until they are well understood by both parties. They will find that they become knowledgeable enough about the various options of pension sharing, offsetting and even in rare cases, earmarking orders, so that they can look at their various options before making proposals that both feel are fair to each other.

For more information about how family mediation can help with the issues above please visit our information page or contact us on 01670 528441.

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