The Child Maintenance Options Service Explained
13 February 2017
Where parents who live apart cannot agree the level of financial support for a dependent child, maintenance is administered by a new scheme known as the Child Maintenance Options Service.
All children in full-time secondary education are now eligible for child maintenance up to the age of 20.
All new applications must be made through the Child Maintenance Options Service (CMOS) and are generally subject to charges, which are currently £20, although there are some exceptions. There is also a:
- 20% collection fee on top of the usual child maintenance amount for paying parents using the Collect and Pay service;
- 4% collection fee deducted from the usual child maintenance amount for receiving parents using the Collect and Pay service, and
- Range of enforcement charges for paying parents who don't pay child maintenance in full and on time.
All calculations are based on gross income and financial information obtained from Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
What if there are Step-children?
Where the proposed payer is neither the biological nor the adoptive parent of the relevant child, the Child Maintenance Options Service cannot undertake a maintenance calculation. Any application for a step-child would need to be made to the Court under particular legislation, but the figures used by the Child Maintenance Options Service would be a starting point for assessing the maintenance liability. A step-parent is defined as someone who is or was a spouse or civil partner.
Can I Still Get Child Maintenance Through the Courts?
There are limited circumstances as to when the Court can make, vary or top-up a Child Maintenance Order. It might be possible to get child maintenance through the Courts if:
- An Order pre-dates 3 March 2003
- An Order is more recent, but it is less than 12 months old
- The parties have agreed a maintenance figure and that agreement is made into an Order approved by the Family Court
- The paying parent's net income exceeds £104,000 a year
- There are expenses in connection with education or training or disability.
What if the Paying Parent has Insufficient Income but is Obviously Wealthy?
Where the paying parent's income is insufficient to justify an Order for top-up maintenance, it may be that their capital position will justify the making of other Orders.
There is specific provision for the payment of lump sums to meet specific expenses or for the provision of a property for the child(ren) while they remain dependants. Where there is a Petition for divorce or civil partnership dissolution before the Court, Orders in respect of capital can be made within the financial remedy proceedings.
What Capital Orders Can be Made?
Under specific provisions of the Children Act 1989, the Court may make an Order for maintenance to be paid to the applicant parent for the benefit of the child, or directly to the child.
This may include expenses incurred by the parent with care such as travel costs, legal costs and the costs of contact, and where contact might otherwise not be capable of being maintained; for example, where the parents live some distance apart.
Where resources allow, the Court can make an Order in relation to the provision of a home including for the transfer or settlement of property to the applicant for the benefit of the child or to the child themselves.
Tenancies may be transferred from the joint names of parents into a parent's sole name for the benefit of the child.
There are a range of factors the Court must consider in each case, including the child's welfare.
What Else Should I Consider?
Remember to check and claim your full entitlement to the range of housing and welfare benefits and tax credits, where appropriate.
In some instances, parents may be experiencing financial difficulty as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. For mor information on what their obligations are in these circumstances, see Do I Need to Pay Maintenance if I've Lost My Job because of Coronavirus?