In these uncertain times, many parents find themselves grappling with questions about child maintenance amidst the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Do I still have to pay?" and "What happens if I'm self-employed or have been furloughed?" are just a couple of the pressing concerns.

Child maintenance, whether governed by an informal agreement, the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), or a Court order, is a vital support system for children's upbringing.

However, with job losses, furloughs, and income fluctuations, it's crucial to understand how COVID-19 impacts these arrangements.

In this blog, we'll explore the challenges faced by parents, offer guidance on addressing reduced or halted income, and provide insights into navigating the complex landscape of child maintenance during these extraordinary times.

What is child maintenance?

Child maintenance is the arrangement for one parent to pay another money to support the upbringing of their child.

This can be dealt with by way of an informal arrangement (part of a parenting agreement) made between the parents, a calculation made by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) or by way of a Court order.

The payment is usually calculated according to the CMS formula, which calculates maintenance based upon a set percentage of the paying parent’s gross income and takes into account how many nights a year the child spends with that parent, amongst other things.

How COVID-19 Impacts Child Maintenance

Many parents are justifiably concerned regarding their current income position, with many workers being furloughed or made redundant.

Self-employed parents who are unable to work are also suffering financially, and many business owners have had to stop trading.

Clearly, these are difficult financial times for many, and this will mean that their ability to pay child maintenance will be reduced.

What Can You Do If Your Income Has Reduced Or Stopped?

If you have an informal agreement with the other parent, I suggest that you contact them and explain the situation.

Try and agree on an amicable solution that may involve you paying less maintenance in the short term with you returning to making normal payments when your income resumes.

If the Child Maintenance Service is involved, you should initially continue to pay your child maintenance as normal.

Failure to make payments could result in the Child Maintenance Service taking enforcement action against you, which could include deducting payments directly from your earnings or financial penalties.

The first thing that you need to do is contact the Child Maintenance Service and explain to them that your financial circumstances have changed.

You can contact them directly and ask to be re-assessed.

It is important to note, however, that the Child Maintenance Service’s current position is that if your income has reduced by 25%, they will adjust any CMS calculation.

This does not, therefore, apply to the 80% furlough payment; if you are still receiving 80% of your salary, the Child Maintenance Service will not re-assess your payments.

If you make payments in accordance with a Court order, you will be in breach of the order if you cannot pay, and the other parent can take enforcement action against you.

If you can no longer make payments as required by a Court order because of a change in your financial circumstances, it would be wise to take legal advice so that either a variation can be agreed or an application can be made to the Court to vary the order.

If you have accumulated arrears, you will need to demonstrate to the court that you have experienced genuine financial hardship so it is important to keep good financial records.

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Please note: This reflects the law at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought as appropriate in relation to a particular matter.

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