Info & Advice

Can I change the amount of child maintenance I pay?

Yes, you can, but it is important to go about this in the right way.

Family law is firmly focused on the welfare of children and child maintenance is a central component of that preoccupation. Child maintenance – also known as ‘child support’ – is designed to ensure that the parents who move out following divorce or separation continue to financially support their offspring. This is as it should be of course: every child deserves the best upbringing their parents can afford to give them. Poverty blights childhoods and can have a lifelong impact. Responsible parents will pay voluntarily, of course – but good behaviour can never be guaranteed, so paying child maintenance is a legal requirement for all absent parents.

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Calculating the exact amount to be paid can be a complex process, and it is one that is entirely dependent on the family’s individual circumstances. The age and number of the paying parent’s children, the schools they are attending, the salaries and living circumstances of each parent: these are all important factors that can and do determine the bottom line. But of course, things change. Children grow older and leave school, parents leave jobs, new relationships are formed. As time passes, paying parents often decide they should be allowed to change the amount of child support they pay.

There are three principal types of child maintenance arrangement and a different approach is required in each case if you want to “vary” the amount you pay.

Voluntary arrangements

You parted on good terms and made an entirely voluntary agreement with your ex. Talk to them, explain the circumstances and negotiate a new payment level. It is important to take a reasonable and fair approach when making such a request. The amount you pay directly affects the welfare of your children after all – and in any case, your former partner or spouse will have a stronger case for legal intervention if they can convince a family court you have been behaving unreasonably.

If you struggle to reach a new agreement, mediation or the intervention of a solicitor may help. Commit the new agreement to writing for clarity and certainty. Voluntary arrangements can break down so we would always recommend turning your agreement into a legally binding ‘consent order’ if you possibly can. Family court financial agreements are referred to as ‘consent orders’ because both parties consent to them.

The Child Maintenance Service

Arrangements brokered by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) are for those less happy situations when you and your ex could not agree on child maintenance payments after your separation. If you wish to change a CMS order you will need to contact this government agency and make your case for a recalculation. You will need to demonstrate that there has been a significant change in your financial circumstances since the CMS first intervened.

Court-ordered child maintenance

In some instances, a specific child maintenance award is contained within a family court order. These may be issued if a couple splits in acrimonious circumstances – or if the parents’ relationship breaks down subsequently.

Previously, applications to change to court-ordered child maintenance awards could only be made via the courts themselves. But now, as long as at least a year has passed since the order was first issued, an application to change the payments can also be made via the CMS, a quicker and simpler process. If you do make such an application, your child support arrangements will be under the supervision of the CMS from that point onwards.

Prior to that first anniversary, it is not normally possible to transfer your case to the CMS, and the receiving parent must agree to any change.

Talk to a family solicitor to find out more.

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