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CSA

Alternatives to the CSA

If you’re really not happy with how the CSA works, then why not talk to your ex about making alternative arrangements?

The CSA will only ever become involved at the request of either parent and all parents are free to make a family-based arrangement. This is where parents sort out child maintenance between themselves.

More than half a million separated families have this type of arrangement, and the number is growing.

With a family-based arrangement, you and the other parent can decide between yourselves how much child maintenance should be paid, and how often it is paid, as long as you both agree.

Family-based arrangements also give you the flexibility to change how much you pay depending on your circumstances. For example, if you lose your job, with the other parent’s agreement you might be able to arrange to pay a bit less child maintenance until you’re back on your feet.

Of course, you should make sure that money is always paid regularly, so your children don’t go without.

If the other parent doesn’t agree to a family-based arrangement

We speak to a lot of dads that want to sort out child maintenance without using the CSA, but the other parent won’t agree to it. If you’re in this situation, then try and highlight the advantages that family-based arrangement offer to them.

For example, the flexibility of this type of arrangement could work in their favour too – if they get a big household bill that they weren’t expecting, you could agree that you help towards paying that instead of your regular payments.

One reason the Government has proposed charging for government child maintenance arrangements in the future is to encourage parents to make collaborative family-based arrangements. If the other parent applied for a case, they would have to pay an application fee.

But you would be able to avoid any collection charges by opting to pay her directly (through standing order) once your payments have been calculated.

More help and information

For help setting up a family-based arrangement, visit Child Maintenance Options at www.cmoptions.org.  You’ll find a wealth of information and useful tools – including a child maintenance calculator which will give you an estimate of how much child

A DADs Guide to CSA continued

- Understanding how the CSA works

- If you think your CSA Payments are unfair

- What to do if you can't make payments

- What happens if you stop paying?

Free Expert Help

Visit our DAD Talk forum today to find free advice and guidance from our Child Maintenance Experts.

Click here to visit the forum and post your query

What happens if you stop paying

If you’re tempted not to pay, you need to weigh up the consequences, which can be severe:

•    Each month, the CSA issues over 5,500 new deduction from earnings orders or deduction orders (where child maintenance is forcibly taken out of a parent’s wages or bank account).

•    Last year 10,000 cases were referred to bailiffs to seize assets from parents who hadn’t paid what they owed.  Plus, over 1000 parents were sent to prison for evading their child maintenance responsibilities.

•    Recently introduced powers also allow the CSA to ask the courts to reverse transfers of cash and the sale of property or other assets if they were made with the intention of evading maintenance debts.  

We understand that things are often tough for parents living apart from their children. But it’s important to stay on top of your payments and treat them as one of your priority outgoings, for your own sake:

•         Parents with Individual Voluntary Arrangements (IVA’s) or who are bankrupt must still pay their child maintenance debt and it can even be claimed against a deceased person’s estate. It’s classed as a priority debt because it’s not about purchases or profits but is needed to support a child.

•         The CSA is only obliged to leave parents with just over half their income for themselves. So child maintenance can end up costing 40% of everything you earn for as long as it takes to clear the debt.

The best way to avoid these measures is to make sure you don’t get into child maintenance debt in the first place. Speak to the CSA and other organisations that are there to help you manage your money.  Hopefully you’ll find a solution that means you and your children are both financially secure.

You can find contact details for your local office here.

A DADs Guide to CSA continued

- Understanding how the CSA works

- If you think your CSA Payments are unfair

- What to do if you can't make payments

- Alternatives to the CSA

Free Expert Help

Visit our DAD Talk forum today to find free advice and guidance from our Child Maintenance Experts.

Click here to visit the forum and post your query

If you think your payments are unfair

At DAD, we speak to lots of separated parents who feel that the CSA treats them unfairly:

“I never see my kids so I don’t have to pay child maintenance.”

Under child support law, contact with your children and parental responsibility - including paying child maintenance - are two separate issues.

Whatever your situation is, a child’s need for financial support remains the same.Most parents would agree that they want what is best for their children and the most important thing is the welfare of the child. .So even if you can't see your child, you can – and should - still contribute to their upbringing by paying child maintenance.

Having said that, it is widely recognised that when both parents take an active role in the child's life (as long as it is safe to do so) it can have a positive impact on the wellbeing of the child. So don’t give up. There are several organisations that specialise in access/contact issues. These include  NACCC, Cafcass, Resolution, National Family Mediation or Relate. Centre for Separated Families also offers information about access.

If you want to find out where you stand legally, it might also be worth contacting Community Legal Advice. Their helpline number is 0845 345 4345.

Remember though, payments must be made in full and on time, to prevent arrears from building up and legal action being taken against you. Plus failure to make payments may be used against you in court.

“She’s got the house, the car and the kids. I’m living out of a suitcase and sleeping on my mate’s sofa. Why should I pay?”

Under child support law, child maintenance must be paid to the parent with the main day-to-day care of the child. This is usually the person who receives child benefit for that child.

Even though that might seem unfair, try to think about things from your child’s point of view. Having a child maintenance arrangement can make a significant difference to a child’s well-being, because it can help create a more stable environment for them.

Most parents want what’s best for their children, and understand that they don’t stop being a parent just because their relationship with the other parent ends.  This includes being responsible for financially supporting their children.

By contributing financially you can show your child how you’re still helping to take care of them, no matter what else has changed. It will also show your ex-partner that you’re willing to do the right thing.

If you want to find out where you stand legally, it might also be worth contacting Community Legal Advice. Their helpline number is 0845 345 4345.

Remember though, payments must be made in full and on time, to prevent arrears from building up and legal action being taken against you. Plus, failure to make payments may be used against you in court.

“She spends the money I pay her on booze and new clothes for herself.”

Unfortunately, the CSA can't check or control what the money is spent on once the parent receives it.

If you’re concerned that the money you pay isn’t benefitting your children, there are a couple of things you can do.

The first is to see if your child’s other parent is willing to make a family-based arrangement. This is where parents sort out child maintenance privately between themselves, without the CSA or anyone else getting involved.

With a family-based arrangement, you can pay for specific items for your child, like clothes, shoes and toys, if the other parent agrees to it. You could also agree that contributing towards household bills counts as child maintenance.

Get more information about family-based arrangements.


“The amount they are asking for is unreasonable.”

The CSA calculation uses a formula based on 15% of a parent’s income for one child. If that seems unreasonable, then you might want to consider this: official figures suggest that the cost of raising a child to the age of 18 will average out at about £775 a month (excluding housing and household bills). Read the full article here.

If you and your ex-partner can reach agreement, then you can decide between yourselves how much child maintenance you pay, and even what counts as child maintenance. This is called a family-based arrangement.

If you think your CSA payments are too high, you should contact the CSA straight away and check that they have the correct information about your circumstances.  

If the CSA can’t change your payments and you’re still struggling financially, find out what to do if you can’t make payments

A DADs Guide to CSA continued

- Understanding how the CSA works

- What to do if you can't make payments

-What happens if you stop paying?

- Alternatives to the CSA

Free Expert Help

Visit our DAD Talk forum today to find free advice and guidance from our Child Maintenance Experts.

Click here to visit the forum and post your query

What to do if you can't make payments

Contact the CSA

You should contact the CSA immediately if you are having problems paying or you are going to miss a payment.

You can find contact details for your local office here.

It’s not easy for the CSA to determine whether a parent is experiencing genuine difficulties or avoiding payment, but the actions are the same, so it’s important for you to be willing to discuss the situation if there are problems.

If you are honest with them about your financial difficulties, the CSA will do it’s best to help.

Keep payments manageable

If you’re worried about making child maintenance payments, deal with it NOW.

Ask the CSA if you can change how often you make your payments. Child maintenance can be paid:

•    every week
•    every fortnight
•    every four weeks
•    every month

If you miss payments, you will normally be asked to pay the full amount you owe straight away. If you make your payments in full and on time, you won’t go into arrears and your payments will be more manageable.

If you’re new to the CSA

Under CSA rules, the non-resident parent’s responsibility to pay starts as soon as the case is set up. But it may be a few weeks before payments start to be collected and passed on.

Sometimes this may result in several payments being due at once.

You can avoid this by making payments directly to the parent with care, before the first collection date. In certain circumstances, these payments can be counted towards your CSA child maintenance payments.

For example, if the payment was made to:

•    pay a mortgage or loan which is taken out to buy or pay for essential repairs or improvement to the home where the child lives, and which is secured on that home
•    pay rent or council tax for the home where the child lives
•    pay gas, water or electricity charges for the home where the child lives, or
•    make essential repairs to the heating system or fabric of the home where the child lives.

Making these early payments will also mean your children won’t miss out while your regular payments are being set up.

If your circumstances have changed

If your personal circumstances change, the first and most important thing you need to do is  contact the CSA.

For example if you lose or change your job, you start living with someone new or you have another child - contact the CSA straight away.

The CSA will look at your case and see if your child maintenance payments will change because of your change in circumstances.

Think you’re paying too much maintenance?

Again, contact the CSA and check that they have the correct information about your circumstances.

You can get a rough idea of what your payments should be using the child maintenance calculator

Ask for help

For more advice on dealing with money worries, read our article on budgeting.

You’ll also find that on the forum we have a dedicated team of counsellors from the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS), a free independent debt advice charity. They are ready and waiting to help.

A DADs Guide to CSA continued

- Understanding how the CSA works

- If you think your CSA Payments are unfair

- What happens if you stop paying?

- Alternatives to the CSA

Free Expert Help

Visit our DAD Talk forum today to find free advice and guidance from our Child Maintenance Experts.

Click here to visit the forum and post your query

Understanding how the CSA works

The Child Support Act

The CSA is governed by the Child Support Act 1991. This is a set of laws that aim to make sure that parents look after their children whenever they can do so. Among other things, the Act dictates how the CSA calculates and collects child maintenance. The Act also says that non-resident parents are legally required to pay the amount worked out by the CSA.

How the CSA works out child maintenance amounts

To work out child maintenance amounts, the CSA uses information about the non-resident parent’s circumstances. This information includes:

•    the non-resident parent’s income
•    the number of children they need to pay child maintenance for
•    how often the child or children stays overnight with them
•    the number of other children the non-resident parent (or their partner) gets child benefit for

The calculation is not based on the relative lifestyles of you and the other parent. It is based on the idea that the non-resident parent must contribute a proportion of their income – in other words, share what they’ve got – with their children.  Right or wrong, that’s the law.

Where the CSA gets this information

The CSA get information from both parents in the case, and other places like employers, accountants and HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
    
It’s in your best interests to give them the information you are asked for as quickly as possible. This will help make sure that:

•    your payments are accurate (so you don’t pay too much, and no arrears can build up as result of under-payment)
•    payments are set up as quickly as possible (so your kids get the financial support they need and arrears don’t build up)

It might feel like the CSA just takes the mother’s word on everything, and the dad is just a walking wallet. But the CSA thoroughly checks all the facts of a case before calculating child maintenance. And, if you disagree with their decision, you may be able to ask them to look at it again.

Your personal circumstances

Child maintenance rules are designed to ensure parents both make an ongoing and affordable contribution towards the things their child needs. That means the CSA does consider personal circumstances when it calculates child maintenance payments.

For example, your payments might be reduced if you:
 
•    have to pay travel expenses in order to see your children
•    have children living with you who have disabilities or a long-term illness
•    are repaying certain types of debt (usually debts that you took on before you separated from the parent with care, that were for the benefit of the family)

The CSA call these other factors ‘variations’ and you need to tell the CSA if you think a variation should be applied to your calculation.

It might seem unfair if the CSA can’t take account of other personal circumstances. But the CSA has to use the same rules for everyone.

For more information about how the CSA works out child maintenance – including what factors the CSA can take into account – see their leaflet “How is child maintenance worked out?”

You’ll also find more information about what to do if your circumstances change on www.direct.gov.uk.

What the CSA doesn’t do

The CSA doesn’t keep any of the child maintenance you pay – it all gets passed on to your children.

The CSA doesn’t exist to punish absent parents – financial support is just one of the responsibilities of being a parent, no matter where the child lives. (Bear in mind that the CSA can only arrange child maintenance for children who live in the UK. But even if they live abroad, you can still provide financially for them through the courts or by making an arrangement with their other parent.)

A DADs Guide to CSA continued

- If you think your CSA Payments are unfair

- What to do if you can't make payments

- What happens if you stop paying?

- Alternatives to the CSA

Free Expert Help

Visit our DAD Talk forum today to find free advice and guidance from our Child Maintenance Experts.

Click here to visit the forum and post your query

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