Child maintenance is the financial support that is provided to aid the everyday living costs of raising a child whose parents have separated. To receive child maintenance, the child must be under 16 or under 20 and in full-time education not higher than A level.
How does child maintenance work?
The parent who does not have the day-to-day care pays child maintenance to the parent or person who does i.e., the ‘receiving parent.
When possible, the child who is looked after should have an effective maintenance arrangement in place. Even if a parent does not live with their child, it is both the parents that are legally responsible for the financial costs of bringing up their children.
Separated parents can arrange child maintenance:
- privately through a family-based arrangement
- through a Consent Order from a court
- through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS)
How the number of children affects how much you pay
If you are paying child maintenance and you are on the basic rate, the amount you pay will depend on the number of children you are paying maintenance for.
The figures below assume that your children stay with the parent who receives child maintenance all the time.
On the basic rate if you are paying for:
- One child, you will pay 12% of your gross weekly income
- Two children, you will pay 16% of your gross weekly income
- Three or more children, you will pay 19% of your gross weekly income
For more information regarding the calculation go to the Citizens Advice website
Child Custody law in Northern Ireland
Following a relationship breakdown, however, there are no set rules to determine the frequency and duration of contact between a parent and their child. The test the court applies is what will be in the child’s best interests, and this will be used to determine what is known as the ‘welfare checklist.’ Working hours of the parents, location, and travel arrangements are also taken into consideration.
When separated parents disagree with each other about the arrangements for their children, there are several services available to resolve those issues without the need to go to court, such as family therapy or family mediation services. A family lawyer can get involved if issues remain unresolved to try and prevent the court from having to take on the case. Failing that you can talk through your options and get representation from H McPartlands & Sons throughout the court process.
If you have a specific area of dispute that cannot be resolved such as choosing a child’s educational path, or a religious issue, an application can be made for what is known as a ‘Specific Issue Order’. However, all efforts should be made to try and resolve such issues by agreement. The court can also grant what is known as ‘Prohibited Steps Orders, stopping one party from doing something such as removing a child from their school or moving to a different country.
Types of Custody
This form of custody takes into consideration which parent the child lives with on daily basis and comes in two forms
- Sole physical custody – where a child lives with one parent
- Joint physical custody – Where the child spends time with both parents
This is separate from physical custody as this confirms which parent takes control of the child’s upbringing as opposed to where they live. This includes medical issues, what school they go to etc. This can be both:
- Sole legal custody – one parent decides
- Joint legal custody – both parents decide
This is where one parent gets both physical and legal custody of the child. This can be granted because
- The other parent is deemed unfit to raise a child
- The other parent has been in jail or has a criminal record
- There is a history of abuse or neglect
- One parent has become ill or has medical issues
- Joint custody
This is when both parents make all the decisions both physically and financially together. They share time with their child through working out an appropriate schedule and make all the decisions together.
Joint physical custody
What if contact is denied?
If contact with a child is denied entirely, it is important to take prompt action to ensure that any delay does not negatively impact the application for contact, and to ensure that an investigation into the child’s welfare can be undertaken. If a court order is in place but is being ignored the court can then act against those not adhering to the terms and conditions.
For more advice on legal matters regarding child maintenance and custody arrangements please get in touch with one of our expert family lawyers who will be able to provide you will all the support you need.
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