Child support: arrears of maintenance

I have visited the topic of child support on many occasions. My virtual postbag this week has several examples of one common scenario: where the husband and wife start off by getting it very right, with an appropriate order for child maintenance upon divorce, but then, somehow, it goes very wrong.  The sad thing is, it goes wrong, very often, because of a basic misunderstanding. Most of this should be avoidable.

To the postbag…

Suzanne writes:

 

I have a court order (payable by standing order monthly) which has been running for 8 years. After the first year my ex husband refused to pay the yearly increase, and has been paying the same amount ever since. I have now requested that he increases the maintenance but he still refuses to do this.  Can you please advise what the yearly increase should be as I have no alternative but to take this back to court.
Also will he have to pay the arrears?

I have re-married two years ago, would this affect the payments?

Child maintenance

Suzanne later confirmed to me that this is a case of child maintenance.  In which case, Suzanne’s re-marriage is of no consequence whatsoever.  The child maintenance must be paid in accordance with the terms of the court’s order.  It is a great pity that the ex-husband has failed to observe the increases each year ordered by the court.  In the first place, the order for child maintenance would only have been in a court order if the husband agreed to the family court having jurisdiction for dealing with child maintenance (instead of the CSA).  Secondly, he would have agreed to the yearly increases (normally by reference to inflation measures like the Retail Prices Index) as he must have recognised that the cost of living – especially in relation to kids – only goes up and never down.  So his refusal to honour the increases he agreed is disappointing.  As I have commented before, the costs of bringing up children is usually underestimated.

Suzanne has asked me what the yearly increase should be.  Unfortunately, I cannot calculate that without knowing the amount of the original award, the date it was awarded and the mechanism used in the court order to determine the yearly increase.  But, I have laid out in previous posts how to calculate the yearly increase and also how to calculate the amount of arrears that have arisen when the yearly increase is ignored.  Click on “RPI” in the Tag Cloud on the left hand side of the web page: this will bring up all my previous posts on this issue. 

One issue here, if this is a child maintenance order, is that in the case of a disagreement over the amount of child maintenance, the family court responsibility comes to an end and the parents will have to look to the CSA.  The usual scenario is that one parent wants to receive more or one parent wants to pay less.  This would require a variation of the original order for child maintenance and this variation must also be by agreement.  But, in Suzanne’s case, she is not talking about changing the amount of the original order but rather simply requiring that her ex pays the yearly increases he promised. Suzanne, if she gets legal advice, may be told to apply back to the court to enforce the payment of the arrears.  But you have to get the court’s permission to recover more than the last 12 months of arrears.  The application is made on Form D11 (Family Procedure Rules, 2010, Part 18).  Suzanne would need to set out her calculation of how those arrears had arisen.  This is not that easy but look at my previous posts in the Tag Cloud for “RPI” and “Child Maintenance”.

The alternative for Suzanne if she wanted, would be to refer her ex-husband to the CSA so they could carry out a fresh assessment of the amount of child maintenance to be paid.  The CSA would not be able to recover the arrears for Suzanne under the court order but I suspect the ex-husband would end up paying more towards his child or children under a CSA assessment than under the court order which is now 8 years old and has not been increased each year.  The CSA may refuse to act though if Suzanne’s child or children are too close to the age of 17 (when CSA responsibility comes to an end).  I don’t have enough detail here to make any further comment.

So, if Suzanne took legal advice, it may well be that she should apply to the court to enforce the arrears.  Remember, that her ex could refer himself to the CSA and if they took responsibility for the situation then the family court order dealing with child maintenance comes to an end, and with it, any prospect of recovering any arrears.  So Suzanne may want to get her application into the court for enforcement first, and recover as much of the arrears as possible.  Since her ex will then have to disclose his present income in those proceedings, she can ask her legal advisers to calculate how much he would pay if the CSA were involved. She can then take advice upon whether to refer the child maintenance to the CSA from that point onwards if the award would be higher than she presently receives under the family court order.

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