One of the key considerations for separating parents is how to provide ongoing financial support for children. One method is child support, also known as child maintenance. What is child support and how does it work?
About child support
Under the child support legislation, parents are given the title of parent with care (PWC) or non-resident parent (NRP). This is dependent on who the child normally lives with. Disputes about residency may be resolved in the family courts. However, even where a court grants joint residency, child support rules still require one parent to be the PWC and the other to be the NRP.
Child support is money paid by the NRP to the PWC to help provide for a child’s financial needs. It may also be paid to another carer such as a grandparent or a guardian, who the child normally lives with.
Who can apply for child support through the CSA?
A parent with care or a non-resident parent can apply to the Child Support Agency (CSA) to work out child support and set up arrangements for payment. In Scotland, a child over 12 years of age but under 19 and in full-time education may also apply.
When a parent with care, or their current partner, claims Income Support or income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, their claim will also be treated as an application for child maintenance. It is possible to ask the CSA to deal with your child maintenance case even where you have previously made a private arrangement, although some restrictions may apply.
How is child support calculated?
The CSA uses information provided by both parents to decide whether maintenance is due and, if so, how much should be paid. It may also use information from other sources, including the non resident parent’s employer or HM Revenue & Customs.
Maintenance is calculated by applying one of four rates to the non-resident parent’s income. These are:
- basic rate (on income of £200 a week or more)
- reduced rate (on income of more than £100 but less than £200 a week)
- flat rate (on income of between £5 and £100 a week)
- nil rate (on income of less than £5 a week)
- the number of other children living with the non-resident parent
- who they or their partner get Child Benefit for
- the number of children the non-resident parent needs to pay child maintenance for
- whether the child stays with the non-resident parent at least one night each week
- Separation: making it work
My children live with me for half the week; do I still have to pay maintenance?
Child support law requires a transfer of money from NRP to PWC even when a child spends equal amounts of time with both parents. This can mean that a child is at risk of experiencing poverty whilst living with the NRP. If you are the NRP and you are worried about this, try talking to your child’s mother about possible ways of managing the situation.