children walking together

Proposed Changes to Child Maintenance

children-divorceThe child support agency has had its critics and its difficulties. It was temporarily replaced by CMEC (but nobody noticed the difference and CMEC itself was abolished in March 2012). Since then the Department for Work and Pensions has been responsible for the CSA which in turn was replaced by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) in December 2012. The CMS has been up and running since the 10th December 2012 but on a trial basis available only to ‘path finder groups’ that is, parents who have 4 children or more, the children have the same parents and they are not currently using the CSA.  All other parents have to continue using the CSA for the time being. It is proposed that the CMS will replace the CSA once it has been running for a number of months and working well. It is expected that parents who use the CSA will be given notice that their cases will be closed and given the opportunity of using CMS if they need to. These changes are intended to be finalised by the autumn. There are a number of new arrangements. If parents cannot agree a maintenance arrangement for their children an application can be made for a statutory child maintenance arrangement and this involves a calculation of maintenance and choosing whether the maintenance collection service is required. If it is, a fee is payable. This is new. The government is obviously seeking to save money and will be charging for its services that were previously provided free. There are certain conditions involved. The person asking to receive maintenance must live in the UK, the child must live in the UK and the person paying must also live in the UK (or work in the civil service, the armed forces or for a UK based company). In addition, there cannot be a Court order in place prior to April 2003 or a Court order made after April 2003 that has been made less than 12 months before the application. The child must be under 16 years of age or between 16 and 20 and undertaking full time, non advanced education or aged between 16 and 20 and registered with certain types of government approved training course and child benefit is in payment. The CMS will decide how much the paying parent should pay to the receiving parent based on a standard formula and can also collect and pass on payments if required. The CMS can also try to locate the other parent. There is no right to use the CMS. They will only get involved if asked by either parent or grandparent or other guardian of the child needing maintenance.  It can be used if the child is at boarding school. The big change is that the government is planning to charge for using the service. DWP have announced that they are considering what fees parents should be charged and expect to announce their final decisions imminently.  There is an intention to impose a 20% fee to be payable by the paying parent on top of the child maintenance and 7% of that will be deducted from the maintenance received. The new maintenance calculation Instead of the relatively simple formula used by the CSA (15% of NET income for first child, 20% for second, 25% for three or more) there is a far more complicated formula: If gross weekly income is less than £100 the child maintenance will be a flat rate of £7 a week. If gross weekly income is less than £800, the child maintenance will be 12% of gross income for one child, 16% of gross income for two children and 19% of gross income for three or more children. If gross weekly income is more than £800, the above formula is used and an additional percentage is added of 9% of gross income for one child, 12% for two children and 15% of gross income for three or more children. (These figures are only added on the difference above £800). Any income over £3000 gross per week is ignored. As with the previous arrangements this formula changes according to how often the children stay with the paying parent. If the child or children stay with the paying parent for more than 52 nights per year this will reduce payments by one seventh on a sliding scale – as currently happens. Any children living with the paying parent will reduce payment – one child 12%, two children 16% and three or more 9%. Obviously these changes are not yet in force but they are the proposals which seem to be imminent. The use of gross payments are in part to avoid excessive pension contributions being used to reduce liability and the fees are either to dare parents using the CMS unnecessarily and to recoup some of the costs of the agency. It is to be seen whether this ensures reluctant parents are any more willing to pay! We are grateful to Rachel Goodall of 3PB Barristers Chambers for assistance in writing this article. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email

What is Mediation?

mediationThis might be a strange question as everyone assumes they know what mediation is.   But when you also have collaboration, arbitration and compromise, what exactly is mediation and how does it differ from the other approaches to problem-solving? With mediation there is generally one mediator with two people who have, for whatever reason, not been able to resolve the difficulties between them.  There may be some conflict; if there is a relationship breakdown there is generally a degree of hurt, anger, sadness and other emotions, all of which can make it difficult to resolve issues.  But the point is to deal with differences, not in a destructive adversarial way, but with a more rational, positive approach to problem-solving.  You are not going to eliminate conflict but rather transform it and separate those involved and their emotions from the particular problems. The issues or problems can be:  how are the couple going to separate, where are they going to live, how are they going to manage the children?  There will need to be some degree of co-parenting but how will this work out in practise?  A rational approach does not mean leaving aside personal feelings but to try and concentrate on what the problems are, not the emotional aspects of the relationship. If you are separating it must be better to work towards your own solutions rather than having a decision dictated by someone else.  So often you hear talk about “going to Court” as if it is some sort of panacea that will automatically solve all the problems.  It might produce a decision but whether it is the right decision is a moot point.  It is not the decision the parties may have chosen for themselves and it is sometimes not one that may have thoroughly considered the practicalities of its implementation.  The best solution for a couple going through a divorce or separation is one they have created rather than the one that is imposed. It may be difficult not to take up positions and feel that any sort of compromise is giving in.  But the more people position themselves, the more committed they become to that position, defending it against attack and so becoming concerned about saving face rather than reaching an agreement.  The more attention that is paid to positions, the less attention is devoted to meeting the underlying concerns of both parties.  A mediator can help move from positions to focusing on what the parties really want, looking at interests rather than positions. Mediation is not a question of one party imposing their view, as any settlement achieved by hard bargaining may resort in short-term gain but often the result is damaging to the relationship.  The whole point of working through issues either through mediation or the collaborative process is to preserve some sort of relationship between the parties.  Although parents might be separating, it remains essential for their children that they maintain the ability to communicate. People often come to mediation realising that the stakes are high and feeling threatened, fearful or anxious.  Emotions in one party will generate emotions in the other – fear and anger may take over.  It is important to recognise, understand and acknowledge emotions, many of which are driven by concerns.  Attending to those concerns can possibly deal with the emotions and so create a more positive climate for problem-solving.  Emotions are legitimate but they should not necessarily take over and determine outcomes. With the lack of legal aid now available to fund most Family Court actions and with the cost of arguing through Lawyers and the Courts rising, it makes sense to look for alternative ways to problem-solve.  Mediation and the collaborative approach in divorce not only are a means of problem-solving, without the bitterness that can ensue with Court battles, but also far more cost effective. For more information or to discuss further please contact Nicky Gough on 07711 527968 or email