Legal parents (and in some cases step-parents) have a duty to provide for their children financially. For separated parents, this usually means that the parent who is not living with the child should contribute financially to the child's care. This might take the form of regular maintenance payments and/or the provision of assets or capital lump sums (such as providing a home).
The law can be more complex if you have children conceived through assisted reproduction, for example if you are same-sex parents or parents through surrogacy. There might also be specialist issues to consider if the issue is a financial dispute between parents and a sperm donor or surrogate.
If financial support cannot be agreed, then there are various steps you can take to resolve things.
The Child Maintenance Service is a public body which deals with child maintenance. It replaced the Child Support Agency from February 2013 (although the CSA continues to deal with claims made before that date). If you are responsible for a child you can make an application to the Child Maintenance Service to require a 'parent' who does not live with the child to pay regular maintenance. Claims can only be made against someone who is a legal parent.
The Child Maintenance Service will carry out an assessment of the non-resident parent's income, and will require payment of a sum determined as regular maintenance. This is usually a fixed percentage of a weekly salary. Reductions are available if your child regularly spends one night or more per week staying with his or her other parent. Find out more about the calculation of child maintenance using the government's child maintenance calculator.
The court has the power to make wide-ranging financial orders in relation to children if you are getting divorced or dissolving your civil partnership. For example, the court might order you or your partner to pay regular maintenance or school fees, or it might order that one of you can continue living in your shared home if you have primary care of your children. This will be considered as part of the process of reaching an overall financial settlement.
The court can make orders in relation to any child who is treated as a ‘child of the family'. This includes step-children and children who are conceived through assisted reproduction and are not the legal children of both partners. However, it only applies to parents and step-parents who are married or in a civil partnership.
The court also has the power to make freestanding orders for financial provision for children under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989, regardless of whether you are married or in a civil partnership. The court can make a wide range of orders, including that one parent should pay regular maintenance or school fees (including ‘top up' maintenance for high earners), or that one parent should own or have the right to continue living in a shared home if he or she is caring for young children. These powers can be particularly useful in contexts where the parents are not married to each other.
The court will assess your overall financial resources following full disclosure. Any order under Schedule 1 will be made for the benefit of your child, rather than you, and so the focus will be on the financial needs of the child, particularly including any special needs, disabilities or education needs they have.
An application under Schedule 1 can only be made against someone who is legally a parent or a (married or civilly partnered) step-parent. This means that claims cannot be made against certain same-sex parents and other unmarried parents through assisted reproduction who are not recognised as legal parents. For example in T v B (2010), the court was unable to require a lesbian non-birth mother to pay maintenance for her child, even though she had been awarded shared care and parental responsibility.
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