The Child Support Agency (CSA) set up under the Child Support Act of 1991 ensures that parents who live apart meet their financial responsibilities to their children. It is part of the Department for Work and Pensions.
The Child Support Agency calculates the amount that ‘non-resident’ parents (the parents who do not have active care of the children) should pay towards the maintenance of their children. It also collects the maintenance payments and passes them on to the parents who have care for the children. If, in case, parents share care, the parent who has the children for the shorter period is counted as the non-resident parent.
The Child Support Agency has investigative powers to trace and contact a non-resident parent, as well as power to obtain detailed information about the parent’s income and capital.
When parents do not pay, the Child Support Agency can have payments deducted from their wages. Where parents receive social security benefits, it works with other branches of government to ensure correct payments and to protect against fraud. The Child Support Agency can also resolve paternity disputes if a man believes that he is not a child’s father.
Payments are based on a percentage of the non-resident parent’s net income. It is fifteen per cent of net income for one child, twenty per cent for two children, and twenty-five per cent for three children or more.
For non-resident parents with net incomes of less than £100 a week, or those receiving benefits such as income support and jobseeker’s Allowance, child maintenance is set at a flat rate of £5 a week.
Cases dealt with by the Child Support Agency before the simple percentage calculation was introduced in March 2003 will be transferred to the new system only when the government is confident that it is working well.
You are worried because your partner has left you and your children. He has also left you with no money to support the children.
Please rest assured, you former partner has a duty to provide financial support to his children. There are a number of things you can do:
If you are married, but do not want a divorce, you may apply to the court for financial provision for both you and your children.
If you want to divorce, you may apply as part of the divorce proceedings for financial provision for both yourself and the children. This will probably consist of a combination of lump sum and regular payments. You can also apply for a share of any pension.
If you are unmarried, your former partner has no duty to maintain you. But because he is the father of your children, he can be required under the Children Act 1989 to provide for the children through regular payments, a lump sum or property. In this case, the Child Support Agency can decide how much your partner should provide. The Child Support Agency will also collect the regular payments from your former partner and pass them on to you.
You are in the process of seeking a divorce and a friend has warned you that you will have to pay maintenance for your wife’s children by a previous marriage as well as your own children.
He is possibly right, if the court decides that your stepchildren have been treated as part of the family. When you divorce, child maintenance will be dealt with by the Child Support Agency. If the children of your marriage are still in full-time education (excluding university education) and are unmarried, the Child Support Agency can oblige you to pay maintenance.
In the case of stepchildren, the divorce court can order you to pay maintenance for them if it judges that you have treated then as ‘children of the family’ and cared for them as if they were your own. On the other hand, if their natural father is still alive, they may be entitled to maintenance from him. This will be obtained by the Child Support Agency.
If you can reach an agreement with your wife, the court may make a child maintenance order ‘by consent’ (agreed between you). But be warned that she can choose to opt out of the order after twelve months, provided she gives you notice, and ask the Child Support Agency to make an assessment for maintenance.
You are worried because your ex-partner wants to reduce the amount of child support maintenance he says.
He cannot do this, unless he applies first to the Child Support Agency. If he simply fails to pay the maintenance, the Child Support Agency will take steps to enforce the payments by having the money deducted from his earnings.
If your ex-partner applies to reduce the maintenance assessment, the Child Support Agency will take various factors into account, such as:
The number of children
Whether the children stay with him for more than 52 nights a year – if they stay with him on regular basis for more than 52 nights a year, maintenance is likely to be reduced
The cost of keeping contact with the children, such as transport to visit them
His net income
Whether he makes mortgage, insurance and loan payments on the home where you and the children live, and which he used to share with you
The boarding element of any school fees he pays for the children
The number of other children (referred to as ‘relevant other children’), if any, that like with him
If the maintenance is reduced, the Child Support Agency will inform you of the new amount. If you think it is too little, act quickly. You have one month to appeal by writing to the Child Support Agency office that handled your case. If the Child Support Agency cannot resolve the dispute, it will hand it over to a central appeals unit for a final decision.
Use the box below to put your question to a solicitor or barrister. You will usually have an answer back within minutes.