Lawyers report rise in number of child maintenance disputes during lockdown. Here’s answers to some common questions
From a rise in the divorce rate to juggling childcare and home schooling around work life, the pandemic and subsequent lockdown restrictions have caused chaos for many areas of family life. However, one area which is often forgotten, but which dads often have concerns about, is the issue of child maintenance during the pandemic.
Stephanie Kelly, a divorce solicitor at men’s family lawyers Cordell & Cordell, answers your questions on child maintenance:
At Cordell & Cordell we’ve recently seen a surprising rise in the number of child maintenance disputes during the pandemic. Part of this is explained by an increase in the divorce rate. However, we are increasingly seeing parents use the pandemic as a reason to try and renegotiate an existing agreement on child maintenance payments. This is often driven by one parent experiencing a reduced income in the home due to being made redundant or put on the furlough support scheme by their employer.
The pandemic has not changed the law in relation to child maintenance and all parents have responsibility to financially support their children. When a family separates, it is the parent who leaves the family home (normally the Dad) and who doesn’t live with the child who has to pay child maintenance. This is a regular payment towards everyday living costs associated with raising the child and maintaining their security.
To some extent this depends on whether your child maintenance is has been agreed as part of an informal family-based agreement, as part of a court order or in collaboration with the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).
Family based arrangements In this scenario you should discuss the matter with the other parent and pay as much as you can afford to towards the upkeep of your child. This may be based on any benefits you receive. If you are out of work, you will need to apply for benefits. Cordell & Cordell’s child maintenance calculator may help with this. The resident parent (usually the mother) could make an application the CMS if you fail to make your normal child maintenance payments. However, if you are on benefits and have no other regular income, then any assessment by CMS is likely to be made based on your ability to pay. In this case it is possible that your child maintenance payments may be nil or very low while your income remains low.
Court order In most cases, child maintenance because of a court order is binding and normally prevents either party from applying to the CMS for a new assessment for 12 months. In this scenario it is best to seek legal advice regarding the court order.
The CMS Both parents are obligated to inform the CMS of any significant increase or reduction in income since a previous child maintenance assessment was made. The CMS has also said that parents should inform them if they lose their jobs or receive a reduction in pay related to the pandemic. Normally you will need to provide physical evidence of this which could include benefits information, tax returns or pay slips.
The short answer here is probably no. The CMS has said that any change in care arrangements during the pandemic is likely to be temporary and therefore wouldn’t normally necessitate a change in an assessment. You should however get in touch with the CMS if childcare arrangements have changed for the longer term.