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Absent parents finding 'loopholes' to avoid child maintenance

Loopholes in the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) are allowing many absent parents to get away with not paying all that they should to support their children. New research by single parent charity Gingerbread reveals that many non-resident parents only pay a fraction of their true liability for child support due to flaws in the way parents’ income is calculated.

The CMS is responsible for assessing the income of non-resident parents and working out how much they have to pay to support their children. It is also responsible for enforcing the payments where necessary. The Child Maintenance Service was set up to replace the Child Services Agency (CSA), which was deemed to be failing parents and children. However, this new research suggests there are still significant flaws in the process for managing child maintenance payments.

How child maintenance payments are calculated

Child maintenance payments are based on the gross income or profits of non-resident parents as reported to HMRC. Parents are responsible for self-reporting these numbers to HMRC, leaving the system vulnerable to people who deliberately underreport their income.

There are 6 steps to working out child maintenance payments:

  1. The CMS finds out the parent’s gross annual income from HMRC.
  2. Things that could affect the income, such as pension payments and other children to support are taken into account.
  3. A gross weekly income is calculated and the rate of child maintenance is then worked out according to standard rates or a formula, depending on the level of income.
  4. The number of children the paying parent has to pay maintenance for is taken into account, including any other children living with them.
  5. A weekly amount is then worked out for the non-resident parent to pay.
  6. If the child regularly stays overnight with the paying parent, a deduction is made based on the average number of nights this happens per week.

How absent parents avoid child maintenance payments

As well as lying about their income to reduce their liability, there are a number of other loopholes and tricks some absent parents use to avoid paying the amount they really should. These include setting up fake companies, paying their new partner a salary from their legitimate business to reduce its profits and giving themselves benefits in kind or large pension contributions.

The calculations also do not take into account all forms of income, including tax credits, student grants and loans. This means some parents’ income could be considerably higher than it appears on paper.

What you can do if child maintenance is being underpaid

If you believe your ex-partner is not paying the correct amount of child maintenance, there are various ways to tackle this. Firstly, you can contact the Child Maintenance Service and ask them to re-examine their decision about the level of maintenance payments. If this fails, you can appeal to an independent tribunal.

However, in many cases the fastest and most effective way to resolve issues around child maintenance payments is through family mediation. Family mediation involves both parents sitting down with a trained mediator who will help to find a mutually acceptable resolution. This process is usually much faster and cheaper than taking your case to a tribunal and is effective in the vast majority of cases.

Crisp & Co’s family law team incudes several specialist mediators, including our Senior Partner Henry Crisp. They are trained in Collaborative Law and are members of Resolution, an organisation committed to constructive, non-confrontational methods of dispute resolution. This expertise means we can help you resolve your child maintenance issues quickly, cost-effectively and with the minimum possible conflict and stress.

To find out more, call us today on 020 3281 7887 or get in touch using the enquiry form below.