Carol Toulson, Family Law solicitor at Holmes & Hills Solicitors in Braintree, discusses Child Maintenance payments during the Coronavirus outbreak.
If you are paying Child Maintenance by way of a voluntary agreement and your income has reduced, we would recommend you immediately contact the other parent and explain your fall in income. If your income has reduced, it does, of course, seem reasonable to reduce the Child maintenance. It may be that during lockdown you are seeing your child more or maybe less. This could vary the child maintenance you should be paying.
You can use the Payment calculator on the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) website for an idea of how much you should pay. Be conscious, however, that the other parent may also have suffered a reduction in income and you reducing child maintenance could have a significant impact on the other parent and your children.
Try to reach an agreement if possible. If no agreement can be reached either party can apply to the Child Maintenance Service for them to advise re the appropriate level of payment, or can administer the payments for you, but this comes at a cost to both parties.
Usually the CMS offer annual reviews or will review if a change of income breaches a 25% threshold (ie would create a 25% increase or a 25% reduction in the payment to be made).
Many people will see their income reduced by 20% under the Government’s Furlough arrangements announced on the 20th March 2020.
Currently, the tolerance level to allow a review is 25% (so that would mean that if your income has not reduced to change the payment by more than 25% you cannot review your Child Maintenance. The CMS is looking at amending legislation to change this to 20%. This may only be a temporary measure and the rate may revert back to the 25% when things get back to some form of normal. Whenever that may be.
If you are struggling to pay Child Maintenance, contact the CMS immediately. Child maintenance is a priority payment and you should not stop your payments before you have reported the situation to CMS and the CMS have agreed the change.
Explain the reason why your income has changed due to coronavirus. Make a note of the time, date and person you speak to. If you cannot get through on the telephone, then send an email or use the online portal. CMS officers have advised that no action will be taken where payments are missed or not paid in full in cases where Paying Parents have registered financial difficulty because of Coronavirus.
If you require advice or guidance from a specialist Family Law solicitor, call 01376 320456 (Essex) or 01787 275275 (Suffolk) and ask to speak to one of our Family Law Team. Holmes & Hills Solicitors has five offices across Essex and Suffolk, located in Braintree, Sudbury, Halstead, Tiptree and Coggeshall.