Page last updated at 00:20 GMT, Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Child maintenance choices available

Money Talk
By Janet Wojtkow
Director, Child Maintenance Options

A man and a woman walking with a child
There are three ways to pay or receive child maintenance

Should parents continue to share financial responsibility for their children, even if they live apart from them?

Child Maintenance Options asked almost 1,000 separated mums and dads that question recently and 94% said yes.

It is vital that all separated parents understand how child maintenance can work and make the arrangement that suits them best.

Child maintenance is regular, reliable financial or other support that helps towards your child's everyday living costs. It can make a big difference not only to your child's well-being, but also to the quality of your relationship with your child and ex-partner.

There are three ways you can arrange to pay or receive child maintenance: through a private arrangement, through a statutory arrangement provided by the Child Support Agency (CSA), or through a court order.

Private arrangements

Since October 2008, all parents have been free to arrange their child maintenance privately, without involving third parties.

Whatever you arrange, it is vital that everything is written down clearly, so there is no misunderstanding

However, our YouGov poll also showed that one in four separated parents who were asked were unaware that private arrangements were an option for them.

Making a private arrangement allows parents to be more flexible about what, how and when payments can be made, which is extremely useful at times such as school holidays, when childcare arrangements may change.

Payments in kind can also be made, where one parent pays to take their child on holiday or on day trips, or buys the new school uniform, for example.

It can be a lot easier to keep things friendly between you and your ex-partner if you are able to avoid using lawyers or other third parties.

Whatever you arrange, it is vital that everything is written down clearly, so there is no misunderstanding.

Your written agreement may not be a legally binding document, but signing your names demonstrates your personal commitment.

Child Maintenance Options have created a simple private arrangement form that can be filled in to suit your own personal circumstances.

Other options

One drawback of arranging child maintenance privately is that it is not usually legally enforceable.

Janet Wojtkow
Janet Wojtkow is the director of Child Maintenance Options

However, if one parent fails to pay the agreed amount or breaks the arrangement in another way, you can still turn to the government's statutory child maintenance service - currently provided by the CSA until its replacement becomes available from next year.

Depending on your circumstances, you may prefer to use the CSA to calculate and collect child maintenance for you, particularly if you want to avoid any contact with the other parent. Either you or your ex-partner can make an application.

Consent orders offer another option for those living in England and Wales. These are official rulings made by the court and are normally used when parents are deciding a divorce settlement.

A consent order means the court can enforce payment if a parent fails to pay the agreed amount. However, they can be expensive to obtain and you cannot ask the CSA to help with your arrangement during the first 12 months of it being in place.

In Scotland, a private arrangement can be made into a legally binding agreement which can be enforceable in the courts.

Service

Child Maintenance Options is a confidential service that can provide details on all the different ways to arrange child maintenance.

It was set up by the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission and aims to help parents decide for themselves which arrangements will best suit their circumstances.

It can also signpost practical support for many of the other issues you may face when parenting apart, such as housing, benefits and emotional well-being. The service is not just for parents, but for anyone with an interest in child maintenance, including family, friends and guardians.

Those interested in finding out more about child maintenance can either phone the Child Maintenance Options information line on 0800 988 0988 or visit the website for a range of information and useful tools including a maintenance calculator, a budgeting tool and a template private arrangement form.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Links to external sites are for information only and do not constitute endorsement. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.



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