The impact of COVID-19 on child maintenance
As with so many other aspects of our lives, child maintenance is bound to be affected by the consequences of COVID-19.
When the parents of a child or children separate they are encouraged wherever possible to negotiate and agree the arrangements for the children including where the children will live as their main residence and how they will spend time with the other parent. Part of these negotiations involve the payment of child maintenance. Child maintenance is a plan in place under either an informal arrangement, a calculation made by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) or an existing court order. It is designed to ensure that the parent with the main day-to-day care of the child or children is supported financially. It is usually calculated according to the CMS formula which calculates maintenance based upon a set percentage of the paying parent’s gross income.
Child maintenance is not expected to cover every expense to do with a child. It is designed to be a contribution towards a child’s basic needs (food, clothes etc). Extracurricular activates, school uniform, residential trips, clubs etc are all additional costs and most separated parents are able to negotiate and agree how these costs will be met between them. Communication and understanding is vital in ensuring that parents work together for the benefit of the children.
The impact of COVID-19 is causing some parents concern regarding their income position as they may be furloughed, made redundant and in some cases dismissed from work. Self-employed parents who are unable to work are also suffering financially. The ability of one parent being able to pay child maintenance to the other in these circumstances is likely to be that the maintenance will need to be reduced. Ideally parents should try to agree the best salutation for their specific situation, which might be to agree on a lower maintenance figure in the interim and return to normal payments when the paying parent’s income resumes.
If parents already have the CMS involved in calculating or collecting child maintenance, it is important to speak to them directly and explain the specific circumstances so that they can reassess liability. The current stance is that if the income of the paying parent has reduced by 25% as a result of COVID-19, the CMS will adjust any CMS calculation if that change is reported to them. Those who receive the 80% furlough payment will be expected to pay maintenance in full. If the paying parent refuses the CMS can take steps such as taking money directly from their earnings or their bank.
If you are struggling to reach an agreement with your ex-partner over changes to child maintenance, speak to one of our knowledgeable and friendly family solicitors in confidence. We offer a no obligation initial consultation which can be conducted remotely during this crisis.
Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Ipswich.