New CSA Rules
Apr 16, 2013
In divorce, there are few issues that stir up as much controversy as child maintenance.
Most non-resident parents (NRP) pay maintenance on a sliding scale depending on how many children they have with the resident parent. A child is classed as either:
- Under 16
- Under 20 and in full-time education (but not higher than A-level or equivalent)
The parent who doesn’t have day-to-day care of the child pays child maintenance to the parent or guardian who does.
If you are on benefits as the NRP you will pay maintenance at the ‘flat-rate’. This is £5 no matter how many children you have whether you have 1 child or 5. This also applies if the NRP has a weekly income of less than £100.
If the NRP has a weekly income of more than £100 but less than £200, they pay the flat rate plus a percentage of their net weekly income. This is termed ‘reduced rate’.
‘Basic rate’ applies to NRPs who have a net income of more than £200 or more per week. The percentage depends on:
- The number of children needing child maintenance
- The number of other children the NRP or their partner get Child Benefit for
If the NRP pays child maintenance at basic rate then currently that is 15% for the first child. On a net income of £200 per week, that would be £30. For each further child an extra 5% is added. For 3 children a NRP with a net income of £200 pw that would amount to the first child at 15% and child 2 and 3 at a further 5% each. This would mean 25% of the NRPs net income would be paid in child maintenance. This would amount to £50 pw.
The child support agency (CSA) isn’t perfect by any means. On the whole though, the amount payable seems fair. Regardless of the circumstances, your flesh and blood shouldn’t be penalised for any mishaps leading to separation.
There are perhaps situations arise where one may make a fairly strong argument against paying (or at least a reduction in pay). Consider the following:
A father that is very close to and hands on with his children is forced out of the marital home due to infidelity by his wife. The father pays child maintenance but is also having to find a place to live, furnish it etc. and make sure his new abode is suitable for his children to stay with him in. He doesn’t earn a great deal but he still pays maintenance. Marry that with the fact that his ex-wife works and has a new partner living in his children’s home that also brings in a salary. Our illustrative father may feel a bit aggrieved as he struggles to maintain his own home for his and his children’s sake – a home in which there is only his salary yet his ex-partners household income (including her new partner) easily dwarfs his.
However, strong an argument that maybe it’s easily quashed with the simple question of “but whose children are they?” Not only that, but regardless of who and who isn’t to blame, it’s not unlikely that his ex is paying astronomical child care fees so that she can work. Is the situation ideal? Probably not but it is fair that the NRP still pays his share.
Sledgehammer pieces of legislation that rarely accounts for merit are bound to marginalise a significant amount of hard working people. I feel that the current rates of maintenance are fair. So why is the government reducing the amounts?
Well the change is due in part to reflect the fact that a growing number of NRPs are setting up homestead with new families. That’s my take on it anyway; whether they are starting a new family, or moving in with somebody else the change is to reflect the fact that they may have a duty of care to ‘relevant other children’. Seems fair, yet things can get tangled up in even fairly common situations.
Our illustrative dad is paying around £350 per month for his two young children. They have moved to a new area with mum. If our illustrative dad – let’s call him Pete – were to live with ‘other relevant children’ then his maintenance to his own children will reduce. Fair? Well, no. Even though he may be living with new children that no doubt he has grown very fond of, they are not his kids. The idea suggests that the reduction is due to the support he has to offer the ‘other relevant children’.
Let’s come at this from another angle. Let’s say Pete’s ex-wife – we’ll call her Louise – has finally settled on one new partner. This new partner – we’ll call him Brian – has his own children under 16, but has moved in with Pete’s ex-wife and children. Brian’s maintenance to his own children will reduce as he offers support to ‘other relevant children’ he is now living with – namely, Pete’s children. But what of Pete’s maintenance? Remember that Pete obviously is obliged and indeed wants to support his children; but on his own is building a new home and life for himself and the sake of his children. Not only that, but Brian has a reduction in his NRP maintenance in order to reflect the fact that he is living with a new family……….sounds like Pete is being treated a bit unfairly. Or more to the point, Brian should be supporting his kids and his kids alone despite who he lives with. Now obviously, should Brian and Louise have children of their own then the picture is slightly different.
You could say “well as long as the children involved aren’t losing out then what does it matter?” True; Pete’s kids are actually better off, but what about Brian’s poor kids? Assuming that Brian’s ex isn’t cohabiting then it’s his children that miss out.
This all really only applies though if you have to go down the dreaded CSA route. My advice; get it sorted through mediation. Just because the law says this is what you could do, it doesn’t mean you have to. I have no doubt believing that neither Pete nor Brian would dream of skimping on paying for their own kids. However, given the current changes in legislation I’ve no doubt that many will