Child Maintenance Agreements
The decision to separate is one that no couple takes lightly; something that is even truer when there are children involved. Bringing a child into the world is one of the most rewarding experiences for many people, but it comes with a great deal of rights and responsibilities, which are not extinguished merely because you and your partner are unable to continue your relationship. When a couple separates, both are still responsible for the financial costs of bringing up any children. So if you are the parent who doesn’t have the main day-to-day care of the children, you may have to pay money to the person who does. This is known as child maintenance or child support.
Child maintenance takes the form of regular financial payments towards the child’s everyday living costs. This can either be arranged between the parties, through a government scheme, or, if your situation is complicated, through a court order.
Family-Based Child Maintenance Agreements
A family-based child maintenance agreement is an informal agreement between a couple with children who have separated, dealing with how those children are to be supported financially.
The main benefit of family-based child maintenance agreements is that they cost nothing to set up, and can be simple and fast to arrange and to modify should that be required. It would mean the couple agreeing between themselves how much money to pay; how and when to make payments; and how to change arrangements if necessary. This would allow one party to pay for items instead of making payments: e.g. buying a new school uniform instead of making a regular payment.
The main, and quite considerable, disadvantage of a family-based child maintenance agreement is that they are not legally binding or enforceable. This means that if one party stops paying, there is no way to force them to do so. This kind of informal agreement would also be difficult in situations where agreement is unlikely or impossible. For example, if one partner has left an abusive relationship where it would be unsafe for them to be in contact with their ex-partner or where there are different ideas about what is a reasonable amount of financial support. In these circumstances, a Minute of Agreement drafted by a lawyer would be the best option.
Minute of Agreement
A Minute of Agreement is essentially a family-based arrangement drawn up by a solicitor and registered in the Books of Council and Session. Once it is registered, it becomes a legally binding agreement equivalent to an order of the Court of Session.
The benefit of a Minute of Agreement is that if one party fails in their obligations, it is legally enforceable. You will also benefit from the expert advice of an experienced family law solicitor when drawing it up.
What should a maintenance agreement contain?
These agreements should cover:
- how much maintenance is to be paid
- how often payments must be made
- how and when payments will be made
- a review date to talk about the arrangement and make changes if it isn’t working
There is online guidance available to help you with these issues, or if you are using a solicitor, they will be able to give you the benefit of their expertise and experience when drawing up the Minute of Agreement and will give you advice tailored to your circumstances.
How Much Maintenance Should be Paid?
The amount of child maintenance is usually calculated based on the income of the parent who does not have the child's main day-to-day care. It is strongly advisable only to agree what is affordable and realistic. There is an online calculator on the Child Maintenance Options website which gives you an idea of how much maintenance the Child Maintenance Service would require you to pay. This can be useful as a starting point in negotiations.
What Happens if you Cannot Agree?
If the parties cannot agree, they can apply for the 2012 Child Maintenance Scheme, run by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). This is open to all new applicants who cannot make one of the above agreements. You must pay a fee to access this scheme.
While the CMS deals with all new maintenance cases, an application can be made to court in certain limited and complicated situations. For example:
- it isn’t possible to make an application to CMS as your ex-partner lives outside the UK
- there are extra expenses CMS wouldn’t take into account in their assessment, i.e. extra costs due to a child’s disability
- your ex-partner has a very high income, and you believe it is fair to ask for more income than provided for in the CMS assessment.
What Happens If My Ex-Partner Stops Paying Maintenance Payments?
This answer varies depending on the kind of arrangement you came to with your former partner. If you went for an informal agreement, there is nothing you can do, and you would need to approach the CMS and ask them to take on your case, paying the fee required.
If the CSA have taken on your case, you must let them know that payments have stopped, and if the payer is in employment the money will be recovered by attachment to their earnings and will come directly from their wages.
If you have had a Minute of Agreement registered in the Books of Council and Session, or if you have a court order in place (they both carry the same weight), you will need to contact your solicitor instead of the CSA, but the money will again be recovered by attachment to the payer’s earnings.
Contact the Glasgow Law Practice Expert Child Maintenance Agreement Lawyers Today
At the Glasgow Law Practice, our family law team have over thirty years' experience in advising and representing clients concerning maintenance agreements. If you would like to know more about your options with regard to maintenance agreements, contact our team today. We make a point of dealing with our clients as individuals and to approach every situation with impartiality and objectivity. To find out how our team can help you, contact us today.