As coronavirus regulations become stricter, questions are arising again about how these changes affect the movement of children between their parents’ homes, and how changes to income affect child support payments between parents.
Contact with Children During Coronavirus
The government is very clear that children can move between households for the purpose of keeping up contact with both of their parents. Of course, with other household members or family child carers having vulnerabilities, or with requirements for self-isolation being in place this may not be exactly possible.
The Family President says that even where a court order cannot be stuck to ‘to the letter’ then the spirit of the order must be upheld. This means making adjustments where needed to maintain contact to be the same as is ordered as far as possible. This might mean changing times/days or implementing more video calls where direct contact is not possible.
There is extensive government guidance on how to manage arrangements for children around coronavirus.
Child Maintenance Payments
The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) has jurisdiction over what a non-resident parent pays the resident parent for the benefit of the children. This is assessed against the paying parent’s income. In cases of income over £156,000 a court may have jurisdiction to make other orders for payment of maintenance.
Child maintenance payments might be in place in one of three ways:
- By informal agreement
- By court order
- By CMS assessment.
If you have an informal agreement, then it will be possible to change the agreement between you. If no agreement is possible it may be necessary to make an application to the CMS. They say they are currently experiencing delays because of the high volume of changes and application being made, and a first payment made through the CMS service itself might take around 12 weeks.
A court order can be in respect of child maintenance or spousal maintenance, or sometimes these are paid together in one global payment. If a temporary arrangement is agreed in variation of a court order, then it can be implemented between the parents. It is always a good idea to have confirmation of this in writing in case of any dispute later.
If there is no agreement, then you may have to return the case to court to ask for a court-ordered variation.
The CMS will review an assessment annually, and this is usually based on information from HMRC from the previous tax year, so it likely to be out of date. The CMS will also review an assessment if there is the paying parent’s income has varied, upwards or downwards, by 25%. During the coronavirus pandemic, they are accepting oral confirmation of this variation but will demand evidence later, which means that arrears will be payable if false information is given by phone.
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