by Nadine de Souza

How will you manage your finances and pay for your children’s needs once you divorce? The most cost-effective solution is to discuss matters with your spouse and come to an amicable arrangement. Of course, this isn’t always possible, and if you can’t agree a suitable amount to cover your children’s costs then you will need to get help from the Child Maintenance Service.

How to apply for child maintenance

Child maintenance is for children who are under 16 or under 20 and in full-time education (but not higher than A-level or its equivalent). You can use the Child Maintenance Service if you’re the parent the child lives with or the parent that the child doesn’t live with.

If you want to apply to the Child Maintenance Service, then first you have to contact Child Maintenance Options. They’ll go through your options, give you a reference number and tell you how to apply. It costs £20 to apply. It usually takes about a month to set up a case and then about six weeks to receive your first payment. If you don’t have contact details for the paying parent then the service will try and contact them, but if they fail, then a case can’t be opened.

How child maintenance payments can be made

Child maintenance can be paid directly between parents; directly from the paying parent’s earnings (this is arranged with the parent’s employer) or by direct debit. Payments are made into the receiving parent’s bank account.

The easiest way to deal with payments is to agree how the amount is going to be paid with the paying parent. This is called Direct Pay. If you choose this option then you should still keep a record of what payments are being made, in case you need to get the Child Maintenance Service to enforce the payments.

If you can’t agree how the payments should be made, then the Child Maintenance Service can arrange to collect and pass on the payments. There is a charge for this service. The paying parent will have to pay 20 per cent on top of their regular child maintenance payment and the receiving parent will have four per cent deducted from their payment.

What happens if maintenance payments are not made

If payment isn’t made, then the Child Maintenance Service will act to get the money. They will contact the paying parent to find out why payment hasn’t been made, arrange for them to make payment and tell them about the penalties if they don’t pay. If the paying parent doesn’t reply within a week, then the Child Maintenance Service will take action to get the money. There are charges for using this enforcement service that range from £50 to £300.

Unpaid child maintenance can be collected in three ways:

  1. Take money from the paying parent’s earnings or benefits: the service can get the paying parent’s employer to deduct the money and pass it on. If the employer doesn’t do this, then the service can take them to court.
  2. Take money directly from a bank account: the service doesn’t need permission to do this, they simply tell the bank or building society to take the money.
  3. Take court action: there are various ways to do this including taking the paying parent to prison or sending bailiffs round to their home to take and sell their belongings.

If you want more information, you can contact Child Maintenance Options on 0800 0835 130.

Help from Lawpack

All the divorce forms you need – and expert guidance on how to use them – can be found in Lawpack’s Separation & DIY Divorce Kit.

If you need assistance in completing the forms, then you can use our DIY Divorce Service who will complete them for you. With our Managed Divorce Service they will complete them and also file them at court for you.

If you want more in-depth information from a divorce lawyer about all aspects of divorce law then read our guide, How to Get a Divorce by Punam Denley. Packed with tips and expert advice to ensure that you get through the divorce process smoothly.

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Published on: January 13, 2015