The Child Support Act 1991 enables the assessment and collection of maintenance, or enforced collection of maintenance if need be, that is payable by parents who do not live in the family home and whose children are not under their care.
The act was introduced by the government with the aim of eliminating the problem of non-resident parents who refuse to pay maintenance by making sure that all parents liable for making maintenance payments towards the up keep of their children actually do so via a number of means including legal proceedings if necessary.
The law states that any parent without care and who no longer lives in the family home has a legal obligation to financially provide for their child/children. If a parent without care fails to provide financially by making maintenance payments they are breaching the Child Support Act.
The Basic Principles of the Act
The basic principles of the Child Support Act 1991 state that:
- Both parents of a qualifying child are responsible for maintaining that child
- A non-resident/absent parent will be responsible for the maintenance of a qualifying child by making maintenance payments of an amount and at such times as determined by the act
As stated by the act a child who qualifies in receiving child maintenance is:
- A child who has one absent parent
- A child with both parents absent
Under some circumstances separated or divorced couples may be able to reach an amicable agreement regarding the appropriate amount of maintenance which should be paid towards the upkeep of their child/children but when this is not possible then, more often than not, the Child Support Agency, launched under the Child Support Act 1991, will intervene to arrange and, if necessary, enforce all maintenance payments.
The Child Support Agency can also demand any back payments for unpaid maintenance due by the non-resident parent and, when a parent refuses point blank to make any maintenance contributions, the Child Support Agency also have the authority to deduct the appropriate amount each week or month from the non-paying parent’s salary.
The amount of child maintenance a non-resident parent/parent without care will be expected to pay will obviously vary from case to case and will be calculated by taking into account the income of both parents and how many children are involved.
When child maintenance is claimed via the Child Support Agency or CSA, which is a compulsory measure if the parent with care is in receipt of certain benefits such as income support or job seekers’ allowance, then there are four ways in which the maintenance can be assessed and calculated and the claim will be based on the non-resident parent’s income or salary.
- A non-resident parent with an income of £200 or more per week will pay maintenance at a basic rate
- A non-resident parent with an income of over £100 but less than £200 per week will pay maintenance at a reduced rate
- A non-resident parent with an income of between £5 and £100 per week will pay maintenance at a flat rate
- A non-resident parent with an income of below £5 per week i.e. in receipt of benefits, will pay no maintenance
If a non-resident parent lies about their income or financial circumstances to avoid paying as much maintenance as required or withholds important information they could face a fine of up to £1,000.
When a parent without care refuses to make the maintenance payments at all they could well face court action and, subsequently, even a prison sentence.
The Child Support Act 1991 has since been updated due to the criticism it received and the confusion surrounding the act but, despite its aim to ensure that children with non-resident parents are being adequately provided for financially, statistics show that families who have made their own arrangements with regard to maintenance are far happier with those arrangements than those who have had their maintenance payments calculated and enforced by the state.
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