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Child Maintenance Nightmare!

The subject of child maintenance can raise hackles quicker than a blink of an eye!

On the whole, with just a few exceptions, most dads accept their financial obligations when it comes to supporting their children financially, as the non-resident parent.

A large proportion of couples put in place a ‘Family Based Arrangement’ (FBA) as part of their divorce settlement; and more than half a million children in Great Britain benefit from this type of child maintenance agreement. The arrangement sets out the terms for paying child maintenance which are agreed by both parties at the outset. The arrangement can be revisited and amended by mutual consent at any point; however, it is not legally binding. This means that the person receiving the child maintenance, usually the ex-wife can still go to Child Maintenance Options (CMO) and seek (increased) payments via a legally binding scheme, based upon Government recommendations.

For those of you who have an FBA in place I would like to demonstrate how meaningless it can be, by sharing my own personal experience.

Last year my husband and I were thrown into complete turmoil when his ex-wife decided that, without any warning or the opportunity for any re-negotiation of the FBA, she was going to go down the CMO route to try and get increased monthly maintenance payments. Just the week before, my husband was sitting in her kitchen sorting through some old photos of their boys when they were little, which she’d found during her recent house move and thought he might like. She was friendly, offering a cuppa, and there was no indication that there were any problems on the horizon.

We just couldn’t believe what was happening!

The situation kicked off with a particularly strongly worded text to my husband full of accusations, which simply weren’t true, demanding more money and threatening to go to the CMO (which as it turned out, she’d already done). She also threatened to go back and claim money for previous years for both of their boys – we just couldn’t believe what was happening! When we checked with the CMO they said that because there was an FBA in place she wouldn’t be able to that. We realised that this whole situation coincided with my husband’s older son moving out of his mother’s house– he’d been giving her some ‘keep’ money.

My husband offered to meet up with her, which he did a few days later, with the intention of revisiting the FBA and increasing the monthly payment to more than double what she was already getting as full and final monthly settlement figure. She wasn’t the least bit receptive, in fact her attitude was very single minded and he knew at that point, that she was just out to squeeze every last penny out of him that she could – any goodwill between them, completely dissolved.

Realising that we had no choice, we pored over the HMRC Maintenance Calculator which calculates how much you have to pay based upon gross salary, less pension payments together with the number of nights the child stays overnight with you (there are some other criteria too depending upon your circumstances). In this case I have to use the term child loosely because my stepson was actually 19yrs old and the only reason maintenance was still in place was because he was attending a fulltime course at college. The problem was, out of convenience he didn’t stay over very many nights now that he was older. We were horrified when we saw the figure that the HMRC Calculator worked out. To reduce it a little my husband asked his ex-wife whether she would count the days their son came for tea towards the total number of nights, for the purposes of the HMRC Calculator but she wouldn’t have it.

We tried to keep my stepson out of this entirely but in the end we had no choice but to explain to him what was going on and ask him whether he would consider staying with us more so that we could get the monthly payments down. He asked to see all the relevant correspondence relating to the on-going negotiations with his mum which made him very angry because he said she never spent any money on him anyway, apart from the bare essentials (he had his own ‘pocket money’ from a part time job, which thankfully the CMO don’t take into consideration). He came to one conclusion – his mum cared more about money than him.

My stepson has now achieved superhero status (with us, his brother and step-brothers) because, off his own back, he decided to go back to the original week-on/week-off arrangement (as per the original FBA). On top of that, he insisted that he wanted to inform his mum of his decision himself, to show her that he wouldn’t be pushed around by her.

The outcome – we still had to increase the monthly maintenance payments but her loss was greater – she would have had more money if she’d accepted my husband’s original offer when he tried to re-negotiate the FBA; and she damaged her relationship with her son (sadly I don’t think she realises or is even bothered about the impact of her actions).

Unfortunately, 3 nights per week is the maximum number of nights on the maintenance calculator and so if my stepson stays with us more than that, we still have to pay her the same amount of money, we aren’t allowed to reduce it – that stings a bit, especially as she insisted that she only ever wanted the money for him!

Every cloud has a silver lining (though I have to remind myself of that when the direct debit goes out!) – My husband gets to spend more time with his son. We get to parent him more, which is helping him to develop and mature better.

And……….we are extremely blessed that she didn’t do this to us years ago!

I wrote this because I can sympathise with dads (and mums) up and down the country who find themselves in similar situations. It was a massively stressful event in our lives. If you have any questions or just want to share what you are going through in a bid to help others, please leave a comment below.

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