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Making sense of child maintenance. By Anna Pietrowski of charity Gingerbread

Occasionally I am pleased to publish a guest post from contributors other than myself and my colleagues at Stowe Family Law, if I think it will be of real interest to readers generally. Given the concerns of many in relation to Child Support I am delighted to publish a guest post by Anna Pietrowski of Gingerbread, a long-established charity that supports single parent families.

They are campaigning against the Government’s proposed introduction of charges to use the Child Support Agency (CSA). A cause that has received some powerful support from the former Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay of Clashfern in the House of Lords, and which is also reported in The Times today.

I particularly hope the email advice package to which Anna refers will prove useful to readers.

Child maintenance is an essential form of support for many single parent families. However, making arrangements to ensure it gets paid can be complicated, confusing and sometimes distressing for all involved.

There are different ways to set up an arrangement for child maintenance – from making private arrangements, to using the CSA – and the emphasis is on the parents involved to choose the one that best suits their circumstances.

Easier said than done, for many. Especially if you’ve heard a lot about child maintenance, but are suddenly thrust into the position of actually having to arrange for it to be paid – sometimes with an ex-partner with little or no interest in helping this happen.

With this in mind, and the fact that the government is talking of overhauling the way child maintenance is currently managed through the Child Support Agency to include charges to allow parents to access it, it pays – quite literally – to have all the facts.

At Gingerbread, the national charity for single parent families, we regularly receive calls to our helpline (0808 802 0925), and questions in our online forums, from single parents who are trying to make sense of how they should approach making arrangements for child maintenance.

Some want to know how much their child’s other parent would be expected to pay. Others have had a private arrangement breakdown and are investigating alternative options. Many are struggling to navigate their way through the CSA.

The common thread we hear is that single parent families aren’t always clear on how to get to child maintenance – money to which their children are entitled and which many families, as one single mum told us: “completely rely on to stay afloat”.

In order to help single parents find the information they need to make informed decisions about child maintenance, Gingerbread has launched an email advice pack bringing together expert advice on key areas of the child maintenance process from our extensive collection of factsheets.

The email advice pack includes information about:

• Getting the right amount of child maintenance
• Coming to agreements with an ex-partner
• Enforcing payments
• Using the Child Support Agency.

Single parents can get the pack sent straight to their inbox by heading to and entering their email address.

Gingerbread’s campaign against CSA charges

Gingerbread is campaigning against government proposals to charge single parents an upfront application fee (around £50-100) to use the CSA to claim child maintenance, and an ongoing ‘collection charge’ of up to 12% per payment and an ongoing ‘collection charge’ of between 7 and 12% on any maintenance paid to the parent with care, as well as an extra 15-20% charge added to the non-resident parent’s payment.

We think the charges are deeply unfair, and in the end it’s the families that will suffer. And we’re not alone. Senior Tory Peer Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who introduced the Child Support Act in 1991 under Margaret Thatcher, is also in opposition to the charges and has tabled an amendment that would exempt parents who have no option but to use the CSA to receive money for the care of their children from charges.

In an interview with The Times published today, Lord Mackay described the charges as “utterly unfair” and placing multiple “hurdles” in the way of parents who need support.

Commenting in the article, our Chief Executive Fiona Weir said: “the indications of support Lord Mackay has received so far show the high level of cross-party concern at the government’s proposals.

“We fully support efforts to help separated parents work together to deal with the financial, emotional and practical consequences of separation. But the government needs to realise that in very many cases that isn’t possible, and if charges are introduced then it will be children who lose out.”

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. DT in Cheshire says:

    This is an excellent post and I’m horrified to read about such potential charges.

    Have you thought about an e-petition? I think you’d soon reach the requisite 100,000 signatures to make it eligible for a debate and raise the profile of this matter.

  2. Fiona says:

    What concerns me most about the CSA changes is the consequences of no statutory maintenance liability where overall care is shared exactly equally. On the face of it this seems fair, care is shared equally and each parent is responsible for maintaining the child when the child is living with them.

    The problem is most women (around 70%) with dependent children have a career gap and/or work in lower paid part time flexible jobs to accommodate children and there are going to be cases where the loss of CM coupled with the sharing of Child Benefit and tax credits means women will be contributing significantly greater proportion of their income so that shared care 50:50 will actually be untenable.

  3. dave says:

    ‘parents who have no option but to use the CSA’

    Ha hum, how about not walking out on the relationship in the first place. Rather than doing so and expecting to be paid for doing so, either by the government, or the dumped ex, or both. Spoiled this debate that (majority of these situations) argument. You take conduct out of the equation and it becomes a man tax.

  4. Yvie says:

    Agreed Dave – my son was sharing care with his ex. for over three years. I was providing unpaid child care (happy to do so) for both of them. He provided day to day living and clothing etc. when they were with him, his ex. did the same. Although there was nothing in writing, my son foolishly thought that his ex. was satisfied that they were both paying their way and that his ex. was happy that the children were being cared for by me.

    Wrong – after not claiming from the CSA for three years, she has now backdated the claim and disputes the amount of time my son has had the children. Fortunately he has a shared residence order for two of those years so at least that cannot be disputed.

    He started a contact list started about four weeks after their separation three years ago which has been updated every time the children stay overnight. His ex. has disputed this.

    He now has to pay £125. per week from a salary of £280. per week. They wanted to take more from him apparently, but by law the can’t. He has asked for an appeals form.

  5. Joy Spence says:

    It is wonderful that there is strong opposition to starting to charge for the CSA services in the House of Lords. The dominant issue is that children are expensive and parents should support their children. There is a high rate of children who live in poverty. Therefore, taking money away in decreasing maintenance payments (with service charges) would only lead to more hardship.

    An area that may be better looked at by the CSA/ legislature would be a way to prevent self employed individuals and business owners, from deliberately reducing their earnings/ or only making periodical draw downs of capital rather than giving themselves a wage and not having to pay maintenance despite going on several holidays and having luxury cars.

  6. Child Maintenance Payments on This Morning - Marilyn Stowe Blog says:

    […] the Gingerbread website, which I mentioned on the programme. Gingerbread has already contributed a great guest post on this blog, on the topic of child maintenance. Do pay the site a visit: it gives excellent advice about […]

  7. Observer says:

    Child maintenance is among those state instruments that reinforce patriarchal stereotypes that men should have public careers and that women are too incapable and incompetent to have that.

    Child maintenance promotes gender inequality, and as Dave and Gingerbread know full well, is essentially an instrument for keeping women parasitical on men.

    Much more liberating and equitable would be a situation where women challenged this scenario and were rewarded for expecting their ex-husbands to share the care.

    But feminism was a complete failure in Britain, wasn’t it? And certain charities have made sure of that.

  8. Lynn Evans says:

    As a woman I cannot agree more with (presumably a male observer comment) on 5th June. My nephew, who has always tried to do the best support his children now finds himself being sued for backpay by the CSA because his ex-partner is claiming that she has never received maintenance from him. He has in fact been paying more than she would have got from the CSA. To top that she is advertising all sorts of work on Facebook, lives with her new boyfriend, (whilst claiming benefits, drives around in a new car and can afford a much better lifestyle than my struggling nephew.

  9. Kathryn says:

    One cannot blame the children for an ex partners actions, by denying the children support. Despite any previous relationship problems, supporting children is a separate issue, its not the child’s relationship breakdown only the adults. When paying child maintenance, you are not giving the money to the resident parent to spend on handbags and fast cars, but for the resident parent to provide for the child, whether it be food for the week or towards the upkeep of family home ie electric, gas water bill. Children do not live on air pie and windy pudding! And unless one was married to a film star or footballer, single parents are not rich on CSA money.

  10. JamesB says:

    re ‘When paying child maintenance, you are not giving the money to the resident parent to spend on handbags and fast cars, but for the resident parent to provide for the child, whether it be food for the week or towards the upkeep of family home ie electric, gas water bill’

    Sorry, I disagree with that. If I am to support my children, then they should be living with me, regardless of how badly my ex behaves. To expect men to pay for being chucked out of their houses and restricted in seeing their children is hopelessly naive and a very bad idea from the feminist movement who haven’t thought that through and asked how men feel about that. To disregard this bad feeling is not the answer.

    It is a difficult question. I think Denmark do it, and that the state should be responsible for relationship breakdown maintenance more when a relationship breaks down. That way they wouldn’t encourage it so much. It’s easy to encourage something you don’t have to pay for. There’s a saying that you only really believe in something if you pay money towards it. I pay child maintenance and resent every penny.

  11. lou says:

    Iv had to comment after reading Jamesb comment above. Scrolling through this thread as I’m thinking of trying to get maintenance from my ex, firstly u state like all men get chucked out of there house and get a bad deal, well how about my ex, after splitting up nearly 2 yrs ago me and my two children had to leave our house and live in one bedroom due to domestic abuse. He got left with everything! OUR mortgaged house, OUR car, all OUR furniture, all we left with was our clothes and a few toys. HE decided to ditch the house and the car, disappear and leave me with over 50,000 in debt from the repossession, so after two yrs of no payments from him and finally getting some balls back to do something I’m gonna do it. After making payment arrangements for all OUR joint debts I think we are entitled to something back of him after having ppl hound me and his children for his debts too. I have not tarred every man with the same brush so dont stereotype every woman who claims CSA!! Rant over, apologies if I waffled on.

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