If you are in the process of going through a divorce or a separation, the court or the Child Support Agency may order you to pay maintenance. If the amount turns out to be too cumbersome, people may begin to fall behind with their payments. If this is the case for you, you will want to call the court at your earliest convenience.
When you arrive at court, you will need to present evidence to support your claims. You will need to write a budget that outlines the amount of money that you earn every month along with your monthly expenses. Remember to take this budget with you when you are required to attend any scheduled hearings. This budget will help you explain to the court why it is impossible for you to pay the entire amount you were ordered to pay, and the court can reduce it for you.
In some cases, the court has ordered people to make payments on a regular pre-determined schedule. If these payments are unaffordable, you can put in an application to have the amount lowered. This would be a better plan for you than the alternative of failing to make the payments without any communication whatsoever. If you were to miss a payment, the court could set a hearing and require that you attend. At this hearing, you will need to explain why you did not make your maintenance payment.
If the court sees fit after your have offered your explanation, it can allow you more time to make up what remains unpaid. Sometimes, the court will eliminate your need to make up your missed payments, but this is less likely to happen. In cases where the court determines that the reason for non-payment is voluntary and without good reason, it may take the following actions:
• Charge bailiffs with seizing your property in order to sell it to pay the arrears
• Remove the amount you owe from your wages before you receive your paycheques
• Send you to serve a prison sentence
The Child Support Agency
The Child Support Agency (CSA) is the entity that decides what each parent needs to pay for the children’s support, and it can also be the organization that collects the money from you. It will be up to the parent-with-care to decide whether or not the services of the CSA are necessary.
When the CSA is used, it will take charge of collecting these payments based on a schedule that the paying parent and the parent-with-care will both receive. The paying parent’s schedule will inform her of how much money is owed and when it is due. The parent-with-care will also receive his own schedule that lets him know how much to expect to be paid and when to expect it.
The purpose of maintenance for the support of a child is to ensure that the parent-with-care has sufficient funds to pay the everyday expenses of raising a child when the parents are not living together. Generally, paying maintenance is the domain of the parent who is not living with the children. Qualifying children are under the age of 16. If they are 16 to 19 years of age, they will qualify if they are in school full time.
The Nil Rate
You may be wondering how the CSA decides how much money you should be paying the parent-with-care. This organization determines the amount by using a formula, and it can set a payment rate after learning the results of its calculations. The CSA has four different rates of child maintenance. Some people are exempt from paying maintenance because they are students, are prisoners or are under the age of 16, and they qualify for the nil rate.
The Flat Rate
In other cases, the paying parent is ordered to pay a flat rate, and this rate is equal to five pounds a week. It doesn’t matter how many children are residing in the household; the paying parent only owes five pounds every week. Those who qualify for the flat rate do not qualify for the nil rate and are earning between five pounds and 100 pounds a week.
The Reduced Rate
In the event that the paying parent earns between 100 and 200 pounds a week, this parent qualifies for the reduced rate. The reduced rate is a flat rate of five pounds, but these parents are required to pay a percentage of their weekly incomes as well.
The Basic Rate
The last rate is the basic rate for those who are earning 200 pounds or more a week. In this case, the amount will be determined by how many children there are in the household, and it will be based on the paying parent’s net income.
How the CSA Collects Maintenance
In the event that you resist and do not pay this pre-determined amount willingly, the CSA can collect it from one of the following sources after they have obtained a court order:
• Directly from your wages
• Income support
• Pension credit
• Employment and support allowance
• Jobseeker’s allowance, income-based or contribution-based
• Other benefits
At this point, the CSA also has the option of obtaining a court order that allows them to take the money you owe directly from your bank account. This arrangement can be an ongoing one where the CSA will remove the money from the account on a regular basis, or they may remove a lump sum of cash. When the CSA gains the ability to make these withdrawals, it will need to abide by the rules that inform it of how much money it is allowed to withdraw at a time.
It may not be possible for the CSA to take any of the above-mentioned actions because you do not have a bank account or pension credit, for example. If this is the case, the CSA has one other method it may try; the CSA can ask the magistrates’ court to issue a liability order against you. In the past when this occurred, those subjected to a liability order experienced the following actions:
• Bailiffs were sent to remove the subject’s property so it could be sold
• A legal charge or charging order was obtained that meant that the CSA had permission to sell the subject’s house if he or she did not pay the maintenance ordered
• Money was taken directly from the subject’s bank account
• The liability order was added to the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines
• The court was asked to levy a jail sentence that lasted no longer than six weeks. (This only occurs if you purposely choose not to pay maintenance.)
• The subject’s driving license was taken for a period not lasting longer than 24 months
If you have stopped making your maintenance payments, it is in your best interest to contact the CSA so you can begin paying again. You may be able to arrange to make higher payments so that you can eliminate the arrears. You may also pay the entire amount that is in arrears all at once. You can arrange to do this with your debit or credit card, or you can make arrangements through your bank.
If your delinquency is due to a decrease in income, you will want to inform the CSA right away.