The government hopes that most separated couples will in future be able to agree child maintenance directly between them but there will always be cases when that is not possible. Proposals for the new statutory child maintenance scheme have therefore just been published which attempt to address failings with the current system.
The new scheme is intended as a fall-back option for parents who cannot agree and is intended to be quicker in terms of making assessments, fairer to parents and less costly to operate to the tax payer. It will also include measures which make assessments less reliant upon what non-resident parents disclose about their incomes as payments will be assessed on their latest tax year income, with that information provided directly by HMRC. It is hoped that this will speed up the assessment process and avoid delays associated with non-resident parents providing information about their income.
Unlike the previous scheme the level of maintenance payments will be reviewed every year to ensure that they remain fair and correct. Likewise parents who share the care of their children exactly equally will no longer be required to pay maintenance to the other. At the present time the parent not in receipt of the child benefits is still expected to pay something, albeit a significantly reduced amount.
Finally, there will be an on-line service which will enable parents using the scheme to see a detailed history of their case, to check the progress of their application and to make payments.
We feel that the new proposals will help address the inherent problems with the existing system but only time will tell if these measures will be regarded as a success. Many separated parents however have little faith in the existing scheme and will welcome the government’s efforts to improve the system.
Family Law Department