After a relationship breaks down, agreeing to pay money to an ex-partner or spouse for the care of a child can be difficult, particularly if there is animosity between the parents. But it is an essential part of caring for a child and vital to their wellbeing.
When Is Child Maintenance Payable?
It is a legal requirement that the parent without day-to-day responsibility for a child gives financial aid to the parent who does have that duty, whether or not the parents have ever been married. This duty usually lasts until a child is 18 and finishes secondary or A-level education, but the courts may extend this to cover the period taken to obtain a first degree.
There a limited number of exceptions to this requirement, for example, when the parent is a student or unable to work because of disability.
Agreeing Child Maintenance Payments
Payments can be agreed upon amicably between the parties and set out in writing in a private agreement. This solution relies on goodwill and trust between the parents as it is not legally binding by itself. The agreement should include the amount to be paid, the frequency of payments, how payments will be made, criteria for altering the agreement, such as a change in circumstances, and details of any other payments that will be made, for example, for school trips or clothes.
The amount needs to be realistic and affordable for the paying party so that it stands a chance of being adhered to. The gov.uk website has guidelines for calculating child maintenance payments, however these are not binding in the Isle of Man and should only be used by way of guidance.
If the parties are applying to the court for a divorce or dissolution of their marriage, they can ask for their agreement to be approved by the court and included in the terms of a consent order. This will then be legally binding for at least a year, after which time it is possible for either parent to apply to have the agreement changed, for example, if circumstances alter.
When Child Maintenance Payments Cannot Be Agreed
Mediation is an option for couples who are in disagreement over child maintenance payments. This can help the parties view the situation in a practical light and find an acceptable solution. If agreement is not possible, application can be made to the court for a financial order.
The application should be accompanied by financial evidence of the parties’ income in the form of a Statement of Means. This can include details of expenses such as food, clothing, household bills and school expenses.
Where a child spends part of the time with the other parent, this can be taken into account, along with necessary items that that parent purchases for the child.
A family law expert will be able to give guidance on what should be included and what result can be expected.
It should be noted that failure to make child maintenance payments does not justify withholding contact with a child. The courts view contact and maintenance as two separate issues and will not interfere with visitation agreements on the grounds of non-payment.
Adequate financial provision is essential when facing the future as a single parent. It gives both parents the knowledge that they are doing their best for their child and provides some certainty and the ability to make plans and calculations based on agreed figures.
Even when difficulties arise, there is usually a legal solution available. At Quinn Legal we are always happy to speak to you and talk through your options.
Our family team have extensive experience of handling financial matters following the breakdown of a relationship and know the legal processes inside and out.
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