Plus ca change: how do you calculate child maintenance?

Reading a book* about Milton Keynes this week, I came across a rather pertinent tale from a 1916 edition of the Bucks Advertiser and Aylesbury News.  It referred to a letter which had been written by a young man Leonard Kempster, to his beau, Gladys, stating “I have absolutely made up my mind that I will always be true to you”.  She took the young man at his word, but he did not follow through, preferring to “remain in single blessedness”, which resulted in an unwed mother, and a child with unmarried parents.  Mr Kempster was ordered to pay 5 shillings per week by the bench at Stony Stratford towards the upkeep of his child until the age of fourteen years, and £35 for his breach of promise.

Almost one hundred years later, the state continues to endeavour to ensure that children are adequately supported financially by parents, although these days it is to the age of 20 rather than 14. The current government has a “child maintenance arrears and enforcement strategy” as part of their policy of improving payment of child maintenance.  This policy, which has been named “Preparing for the future, tackling the past” included the production of a consultation paper this time last year named “Supported separated families; securing children’s futures” which is definitely worth a read.  This clarifies the government’s vision on where the issue of child maintenance is going.

The amount of child maintenance which is going to be paid by the parent who is not the main carer of the child is determined in one of three ways: an agreement between the parents (“a family based arrangement”); an approved court order or an assessment by the CSA.  The CSA is going to be phased out over the next three years, and the Child Maintenance Service is now being phased in.  The rules for the new Child Maintenance Service are now applied to any new applicant with two or more relevant children.  Those rules provide that if your gross income is between £10,400 and £41,600 per annum you will pay 12% of that gross income for one child, 16% for two, and 19% for three or more children.  This is called the “Basic Rate”.  Income earned between £41,600 and £156,000 per annum will then be assessed at a “Basic Plus” rate, which is at a slightly lower percentage of 9/12/15%.  The CMS will also take into account the number of nights the children stay with you, and whether any other children are paid for.

The rhetoric is clear that the government will expect users to approach the CMS as a last resort, “designed to target the most difficult cases”.  To encourage parents to sort out their own arrangement, a modest application fee is going to be applied to new applications. To encourage parents to administer their own payments, there will be a 20% surcharge for payers, and 4% deduction on recipients if they use the CMS to administer the transfer of funds.

We do not know whether the Mr Kempster in our historic tale would be paying out 12% of the gross income when he was ordered to pay 5 shillings per week.  I wonder what percentage of his salary he earned in his job as a coach finisher in Wolverton that represented.

*Memories of Milton Keynes by Marion Hill, published by Tempus

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