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If you’ve split with your partner but have children to look after, then it’s important to address the question of child maintenance.
UK child support laws exist to protect children, and there are detailed considerations that ensure parents pay their fair share of child maintenance. Child maintenance is paid regardless of whether you live with your children or not, and it’s a parental obligation that you continue paying until your child leaves school or university.
But how much child maintenance should you be paying? In this article, the family law team at Wilson Browne explains how much child maintenance is legally required to be paid by parents.
Do You Pay Child Support in the UK?
UK child support laws stipulate that both parents are financially responsible for their children until they leave school or higher education. This means that even if you split from your partner and no longer live full time with your child, you are still legally responsible for their financial support.
That’s where child maintenance – often called child support – becomes important. If you are separated from your partner and have different living arrangements, then you need to organise regular payments for your children. These payments are what’s meant when we talk about child maintenance or child support.
In the UK, you have an obligation to make these payments until your children turn 16 and leave school, or if they continue in higher education – at college, sixth form or university – until they are 20 years old.
Child maintenance or child support payments are calculated based on a number of factors, including the number of children, the number of nights spent with different parents, and your average weekly wage.
Child support payments are based on the premise that the children will spend most of their time living with one of the parents. This is generally the case, as when the parents split they will also organise new living arrangements. It may also be the case that they never lived together or were official partners in the first instance.
This means that child support payments are usually going to be made to one of the parents and therefore child support payments are usually going to be made by one parent to the other. This provides the parent who looks after the children for the majority of the time with the necessary funds to care for them on a day-to-day basis.
Is It a Legal Requirement to Pay Child Maintenance in the UK?
There’s no doubt that a parent should be expected to contribute financially towards their children, but is it a legal requirement to pay child maintenance in the UK?
In the majority of scenarios, where one parent looks after the children for the majority of the time, it’s a legal requirement for them to be paid child maintenance by the other parent. The only time this isn’t a legal requirement is when the children share their time equally with both parents. If this is the case, it’s assumed that each parent will be responsible for the children during their time with them.
The Child Maintenance Service can deal with applications where the paying parent lives in the UK. You may not be forced to pay if you are not a habitual resident of the United Kingdom, or if there are exceptional circumstances (such as prisoners/full-time students). In circumstances where the paying parent lives and works abroad the Family Court retains the ability to deal with Child Maintenance provision.
The government’s Child Maintenance Service can legally force parents to make payments, and if you fail to do so you can be prosecuted.
For the purposes of the UK’s child support laws, a parent is legally required to make child maintenance payments if they meet the following criteria:
- You are a biological parent
- You have legally become a parent through adoption
- You are legally considered to be a parent (if the child was conceived through a surrogate or IVF treatment, for example)
Likewise, if you are the parent looking after the child for the majority of the time, you can legally expect maintenance payments from the second parent if they meet the above criteria. You can also legally expect payments from the parents if you are considered to be a full-time day-to-day carer or guardian for the child (you may be a friend, relative, grandparent, etc.).
How Is Child Maintenance Calculated?
UK child support law assumes that parents will first come to a mutual agreement as to how much they should each be expected to pay towards child maintenance. If you are on good terms with your partner, you can do this by breaking down estimated costs and reaching an agreement. You can also use the calculator on the Child Maintenance Service website to work out the amount.
Child maintenance is paid to cover day-to-day living costs as well as other expenses. If it is assessed by the Child Maintenance Service it will be calculated using a set formula that takes into account the care sharing arrangements and the number of children in each household. The Child Maintenance Service can also be asked to collect the amount directly from the wages of the parent obliged to pay.
The main factors that affect how much maintenance will need to be paid include:
- Yearly gross income
- Added or extra incomes (e.g. pension)
- Number of nights the child spends in residence with each parent
- Number of other children
UK child support laws can be complex, so it’s important to seek professional assistance from skilled lawyers if you need assistance.
With decades of legal experience, Wilson Browne’s family law team can provide the advice you need to organise child maintenance payments.