Child Maintenance – What do Single Parents Really Think of the Service?

As a Family Solicitor of over 20 years’ experience, I have dealt with a lot of single parents.  There has always been mixed reviews over the service of the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) formally the Child Support Agency (CSA).

I have previously blogged about the current formula, eligibility and general awareness of the CMS.  I recently also came upon a blog by a support group for single parents and thought it would be a great link for parents trying to navigate the child maintenance arrangements.

The support group is FROLO and their ‘complete guide to the child maintenance service’ has lots of easy to read information and can be found here   https://www.frolo.com/blog/a-complete-guide-to-the-child-maintenance-service-in-the-uk

Alongside their information, FROLO has also obtained the opinions of 9 CMS users and their feedback on the service is here: https://www.frolo.com/blog/does-the-cms-work-is-it-fair-9-first-hand-accounts

It is interesting and useful reading for parents at what can be an anxious time.  The standout points are considered below and I have added my comments about how family solicitors may be able to help in those situations:

  1. The biggest issue is around self employment where earnings can be minimised and dividends not reflected in the calculation.

If you are married then we can look at ensuring a fair division of the capital, income and pension as part of the financial order on divorce that is made.  That way the wealth from dividend income can be factored into a settlement.  It may be that capital such as the house equity can be divided less equally so that the parent with the main care can obtain sufficient equity to rehouse with less of a mortgage to compensate for a low maintenance payment.

  1. The system generally results in huge conflicts regarding the child arrangements with the number of overnights per year and non resident parents wanting more overnight stays are accused of only wanting them to reduce their payment and parents with care denying more overnight stays as they don’t want their CMS payment to reduce.

We can work at reaching a fair arrangement for the children to spend time with each parent in a way that does not affect their emotional wellbeing and meets their needs.  We can apply to the Court for an order that defines the arrangements if necessary and then it is a reliable arrangement for the CMS to work from.  We can refer parties to mediation or deal with these issues in a collaborative setting with both parents and their legal advisors in the room together.

  1. The system does not take account of what happens with the rest of the family finances.  An example is provided of a father having to pay CMS on top of half the mortgage and other debts.

Again, this is where any married couple who are divorcing need the benefit of legal advice.  In such a situation we could ensure that all the family debts and outgoings are factored into any settlement of the finances.  There would have to be a fair division considered using the CMS element also.  Family Solicitors will ensure that all assets, income, capital and pension is considered as part of the overall pot before factoring in the CMS calculation to ensure the arrangement is reasonable.

  1. The CMS is an outdated system that doesn’t reflect modern day life….The service is not responsive enough, nor agile enough to deal with modern day life, making it unfit for purpose. It’s a one size fits all approach, if that doesn’t work they will try their very best to make the square peg fit into a round role. The customer facing side is undertrained for the role and the team who know what they’re doing and can do something else are massively overstretched.  I am now the resident parent of both my children, my ex has the children significantly less than myself but because she has a court order that was not recognised for me, she doesn’t have to pay.

Where ever possible you need to seek legal advice so that the arrangements for maintenance are factored into a financial settlement on divorce, and the arrangements for the children are considered fully and thoroughly and embodied into an order so that they can be relied upon.

For more information or assistance please do contact either me or the other members of our family team on the contact details below:

Jslater-williams@keelys.co.uk | 01543 420011

mbell@keelys.co.uk | 01543 420031

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