Calculators

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How much child maintenance should I pay?

Two kids x 20% gross income, err, less pension payments, and then, erm, divided by 3 nights equals… Damn. Start again.

Two years ago I launched a child maintenance calculator to deal with the vexed question:  “How much child maintenance should I pay?”  The reasons I took the time out to develop this free tool are set out here.  It’s fair to say I had the hump with the Child Maintenance Service, on behalf of parents struggling with the issue of child maintenance, at the poorly executed calculator provided by that organisation.

I am not able to spend as much time on this blog as I used to; I felt some years ago that my spare time had to benefit as many people as possible and that I should concentrate my efforts on a more ambitious way to help people connect with specialist family law advice.  I put it all down to a numbers game.  I have been very busy with those long-term plans aimed, a wee bit ambitiously, at bringing family law into the 21st century.  So, being distracted by grander plans, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there have been 900 calculations using my child maintenance calculator.  Most of the calculations were carried out by private individuals, but with a sizeable number generated by lawyers, mediators and some advice agencies.

I will continue to host and maintain the calculator as long as it meets a need.

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Child maintenance charges

GOODBYE CSA – HELLO CHILD MAINTENANCE SERVICE

I hear the Child Maintenance Service has written to 50,000 single parents currently using the Child Support Agency (CSA) to warn them that if they cannot reach a new voluntary agreement they could face child maintenance charges for using the CSA’s replacement service.  The BBC’s report is here.

Child Maintenance Charges – in summary

The new rules mean that if a voluntary arrangement cannot be reached then:

  • The paying parent  will have a 20% charge added to the maintenance payment;
  • The receiving parent will pay a 4% charge to receive the child maintenance;
  • All parents will be charged a fee of £20 for registering with the new service.

Voluntary Agreements for child maintenance

Obviously, it is best to agree the level of child maintenance and to avoid having to face a child maintenance charge.  All this does is reduce the value of the payment that is meant to be benefiting the children.  This is a form of indiscriminate taxation as far as I can see it.

One of the problems with expecting parents to reach agreement between themselves is that the government has been slow to provide the necessary information and the appropriate tools.  If you are a parent who has received such a letter or you are recently separated and unsure about how to agree child maintenance then have a look at the Child Maintenance Options site.  BUT IF YOU FIND THEIR CHILD MAINTENANCE CALCULATOR UNHELPFUL THEN HAVE A LOOK AT MY CHILD MAINTENANCE CALCULATOR INSTEAD.  I think you will find it a lot more useful and the calculation produces a PDF which you can print out for your ex or email to them instead.

 

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Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

Everybody Knows“, Leonard Cohen

About 10 months ago I became annoyed with the very basic child maintenance calculator provided by the Child Maintenance Agency (CMA) and decided I could copy it, refine it and then, greatly improve it.

Sure, the CMA’s calculator carries out the calculation but it lacks real thought, care and class. It introduced a new formula – that based on gross income – that was not as easy to understand as I first thought. In fact, in places, it was quite complicated.  It introduced nil, flat, reduced, basic and basic plus rates.  It no longer became the sort of calculation you could quickly scribble out on a piece of paper.

Sometimes, life is complicated but in my humble opinion, if a government decides to make something as important as child maintenance complicated it has an obligation to make its delivery to its citizens as understandable as possible. The CMA’s  online calculator is not good enough for such an important function. So, at first, I was just irritated at the lack of care in the delivery. I could not see how such a basic calculator could help parents to communicate about the appropriate level of child maintenance. The child maintenance result was not explained; it could not easily be emailed or otherwise electronically communicated to the other parent.   Because the calculator did not care to explain itself, its results could not easily be queried by the parents who needed to understand its workings in order to reach agreement.

So, I decided to take the child maintenance calculator and make it better. It proved to be very time-consuming. I wanted to give up quite a few times, frustrated at my inability to make the damn thing work and as the months passed I started to become less Mr Mardy Bum and more Mr Angry.  To be honest, if it wasn’t for getting the right hump I would not have finished this calculator.  But my beef was not with my stumbling efforts at coding but rather with the attitude demonstrated by various ministers responsible for key policies.

Why so angry?

So, why did feeling angry with the government’s treatment of families make me even attempt to build a child maintenance calculator?  Here’s why, quickly:

  • It was abundantly clear that the government would withdraw family legal aid anyway despite the warnings from most respectable quarters about the adverse impact on vulnerable families;
  • The government held up mediation as the panacea: withdrawing legal aid would matter not a jot we were told.  But in its wisdom, the government thought it unimportant to highlight the fact people could still get means-tested legal aid for mediation. I mean, really let them know: spend a small amount of the millions that would be saved publicising the availability of legal aid for mediation. The result was a policy car crash; mediation referrals fell off a cliff.  Litigants in person, unable to afford legal help have flocked to the courts – the very outcome the government was trying to avoid.
  • Even before family legal aid was knifed in the back in April of last year, high street solicitors’ firms were disappearing from the high street faster than my mum’s scones as soon as they came out of the oven. It suddenly became impossible for a very significant part of the public to get legal advice at at time when their families were in crisis.
  • The family courts are reeling from successive budget cuts. The public counter service intended to help the public used to open between the hours of 10.00 am to 4.00 pm.  Then it was reduced to the morning only.  Now, it doesn’t really exist at all.  You have to make an appointment if you want to see someone at the public counter. Think about that. You have to phone up the court (hoping the phone gets answered) and make an appointment. But if you want to make a court application you have to do so by post.  You can’t just drop it off at the court like you used to.   Such court applications by litigants in person are, understandably, often incorrectly drafted. They are then sent back by the court. In the days of access to a public counter you could at least go in with the papers and have the usually helpful staff at least iron out the worst mistakes and try to put people on the right track. To believe you could actually walk into a court to seek help. Literally, have access to justice.  The court service is no longer a service to all its citizens. It discriminates against those who are poor or of modest income who cannot afford legal advice.
  • Allied to the policy decision to deprive the poorest citizens of legal advice is a wholesale reform of the welfare state that has driven more children into officially defined poverty. A cabinet defined by high privilege knowingly consigns the poorest and youngest amongst us to the direst of life outcomes.  I find that unforgivable.

All in all, I just get the strongest impression that the government doesn’t give a toss.  It is an abdication of responsibility by the state to enact such policies and hope that the private sector will come up with the answers.  It may deliver some solutions but it will, inevitably, be driven by the bottom line: it will cherry pick those citizens it is interested in and filter out the rest.  The not for profit sector will soldier on but comes under an increasingly heavy burden.

For individuals to do nothing in the face of official indifference is as much an abdication of responsibility as that being demonstrated by the state. So, as a lawyer, like many others, who believes that access to justice is a fundamental principle that must be protected I have to do something rather than nothing.  Partly, that is why I started this blog, rather than going back to, say, the voluntary CAB roster of many years ago.  I realised that I could reach more people in one day using my blog than I could in a whole year of once a month voluntary sittings at CAB.

And this is why my small, further effort at doing ‘something’ rather than ‘nothing’ led me to create a proper child maintenance calculator to help parents towards that difficult conversation about money.  To allow parents to communicate more easily about the appropriate level of child maintenance in circumstances where they no longer have the assistance of lawyers, the courts or the state.

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Divorce calculator simple interest

 

As I confessed in an earlier post, I can’t resist a good divorce calculator.  I was talking then about a divorce calculator for journey costs.  The thingymajig  below calculates simple interest on a given sum. I know, you could probably do the maths in your head, but in a lighthearted way, I want to highlight the usefulness of interest in divorce and separation cases.

 

A divorce calculator for interest

 

  • In a divorce settlement, your spouse may offer to pay you a lump sum.  The lump sum may be to compensate you for, as an example, transferring over the interest in the matrimonial home.  But the problem is, your spouse says you will will have to wait for the whole sum or part of it.  If you agree to wait then the money is not sitting in your account earning interest.  Yes, I know that savings rates are rubbish but, in the legal world, cash is king.  If I am going to agree to my client waiting to get their hands on an agreed lump sum I will ask for interest at the court rate.  That, by the way, is 8%.  Yes, I do mean 8%.  If you can find a savings account offering anything near 8% then I’m a monkey’s uncle.  So demand interest.
  • You have separated from the partner of your children.  You want to agree child maintenance.  You realise that inflation will eat into the value of the payments as time goes by.  So, you agree to increase the payments on an annual basis by a set percentage.  The figure is up for agreement although you can of course vary it each year.  Inflation last year was 2.7% so you would want to agree at least 3% to keep pace with inflation.
  • In a divorce or a co-habitee separation one of the parties pays off a joint debt.  It is agreed that half of the sum paid out will be reimbursed but there is a worry that the commitment to repay may fade with time.  You can agree to apply a relatively high rate of interest on the unpaid sum so there is an incentive not to delay payment.  Example: John has a credit card debt of £7,000.  It is agreed with his ex-partner, Sue, that at least £6,000 of that sum was for joint spending.  John agrees to pay off the whole sum but Sue will owe him a ‘credit’ of £3,000.  Sue does not seem very focussed on when or how she will re-pay John the £3,000.  So, before paying off the credit card liability, John and Sue agree that he will be paid back the £3,000 within 28 days.  But in the absence of payment at day 28, interest will run at 8% until it is paid off.  Sue therefore needs to get a move on.

I will try to track down some other calculators that I think might be useful in a family law situation. Don’t knock it – it keeps me off the streets.

 

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The DWP App

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) launched an app at the end of November 2012.  The app is intended to provide assistance to people who are struggling with the issues that arise on relationship breakdown: divorce, child support and so on.   I think the app is the delivery of an initiative announced in July of this year when the press reports talked of a ‘Divorce App’ and the figure of £14M budget spend was bandied around.   I questioned then why £14M was needed for an app.  I now understand the spend was closer to £300,000.  Quite a come-down.

I had a bit of a go in that previous post, unhappy as I was with the brutal staff cuts to the court system and the planned withdrawal of most family legal aid in April of 2013.  My bad humour is not dispelled by the ‘Sorting out Separation’ app now hosted by the DWP.  I’m all for helpful guidance but placing impossible obstacles in the way of access to justice turns me into Mr Angry.  For one beautiful moment, back when the app was launched in November, I saw a link to MailOnline about the app that seemed to share my anger.  At last, I thought, one of the press big beasts has woken up to the threat posed by the withdrawal of legal aid and the insulting attempt to fill the impending void with an app.  Fortunately, natural order was restored once I read the article and realised that the Daily Mail was angry, as usual, for all the wrong reasons.  It was just the usual piece about how getting a divorce or separating was being made even easier.  Strangely enough, most of the readers of this blog seem to find the exact opposite: sorting it out is expensive, complicated and deeply stressful.

 

However….

However, I have allowed myself to be distracted.  Since my blog is intended to be helpful to the very people who will be most affected by public provision cuts, I have decided to give the DWP’s shiny new app a fair crack of the whip.

STOP PRESS: THE DWP ENCOURAGES GOOD BOY SCOUTS LIKE ME TO EMBED THE APP ON THEIR SITES.  THIS I DULY DID AFTER SPENDING HOURS WORKING OUT HOW TO DO IT.  UNFORTUNATELY, GOOGLE THEN DETECTED THE APP AND DECIDED THAT MY INNOCENT BLOG WOULD INFECT ANY VISITORS WITH MALWARE. MY TRAFFIC FELL OFF A CLIFF. THANK YOU DWP. SO I HAVE REMOVED IT. IF YOU WANT TO USE THE APP PLEASE GOOGLE IT AND YOU’LL FIND IT SOON ENOUGH.

Good luck and let me (and others) know if the Sorting out Separation app is worth the money we taxpayers have just spent on it.

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Journey cost calculator for Divorce Finance Toolkit

I like calculators. They are really useful when you’ve run out of fingers to count on.

This is a journey cost calculator. In many divorce and separation cases the earned income has to stretch a long way. Here are a few scenarios where this calculator may prove useful:

    1. If you are divorcing and making a financial claim you will probably have to complete a financial disclosure questionnaire called a Form E. It asks for all sorts of information on people’s finances and one of the sections in particular is called income needs. Invariably, at first attempt, many people underestimate their true levels of expenditure. This calculator can help to focus on the true cost of the mileage that may be clocked up in getting to work.
    2. Or, you are negotiating with your ex over the amount of spousal maintenance or child maintenance that should be paid. One of you may require a car to get to work. That wage may be providing for maintenance payments. The cost of getting to and from work can be significant with the cost of fuel at the moment. This calculator may help to show just how much is being spent. This unavoidable cost could be factored into the discussions.
    3. Or a level of maintenance has been agreed and in place for a number of years but the paying or receiving party has a change of circumstances involving more motor travel, perhaps in relation to a work relocation. So the calculator could assist in showing why the change of circumstances means an adjustment in maintenance is required.
    4. Another scenario is where contact to children is being discussed. One of the parents may have to do a fair bit of mileage over time picking up or dropping off the kids for contact. It is a cost that could demonstrate why the parent paying maintenance will struggle unless this essential expenditure is taken into account. Or, for instance, if it is a mother working part-time and doing most of the motoring around to allow contact, why the maintenance she is receiving may need to have an element in it to cover this cost of travelling.

Ideally, I wish I could find a calculator that would allow road, tax, servicing and insurance to be incorporated but no luck so far.

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