The Child Support Act
The CSA is governed by the Child Support Act 1991. This is a set of laws that aim to make sure that parents look after their children whenever they can do so. Among other things, the Act dictates how the CSA calculates and collects child maintenance. The Act also says that non-resident parents are legally required to pay the amount worked out by the CSA.
How the CSA works out child maintenance amounts
To work out child maintenance amounts, the CSA uses information about the non-resident parent’s circumstances. This information includes:
• the non-resident parent’s income
• the number of children they need to pay child maintenance for
• how often the child or children stays overnight with them
• the number of other children the non-resident parent (or their partner) gets child benefit for
The calculation is not based on the relative lifestyles of you and the other parent. It is based on the idea that the non-resident parent must contribute a proportion of their income – in other words, share what they’ve got – with their children. Right or wrong, that’s the law.
Where the CSA gets this information
The CSA get information from both parents in the case, and other places like employers, accountants and HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
It’s in your best interests to give them the information you are asked for as quickly as possible. This will help make sure that:
• your payments are accurate (so you don’t pay too much, and no arrears can build up as result of under-payment)
• payments are set up as quickly as possible (so your kids get the financial support they need and arrears don’t build up)
It might feel like the CSA just takes the mother’s word on everything, and the dad is just a walking wallet. But the CSA thoroughly checks all the facts of a case before calculating child maintenance. And, if you disagree with their decision, you may be able to ask them to look at it again.
Your personal circumstances
Child maintenance rules are designed to ensure parents both make an ongoing and affordable contribution towards the things their child needs. That means the CSA does consider personal circumstances when it calculates child maintenance payments.
For example, your payments might be reduced if you:
• have to pay travel expenses in order to see your children
• have children living with you who have disabilities or a long-term illness
• are repaying certain types of debt (usually debts that you took on before you separated from the parent with care, that were for the benefit of the family)
The CSA call these other factors ‘variations’ and you need to tell the CSA if you think a variation should be applied to your calculation.
It might seem unfair if the CSA can’t take account of other personal circumstances. But the CSA has to use the same rules for everyone.
For more information about how the CSA works out child maintenance – including what factors the CSA can take into account – see their leaflet “How is child maintenance worked out?”
You’ll also find more information about what to do if your circumstances change on www.direct.gov.uk.
What the CSA doesn’t do
The CSA doesn’t keep any of the child maintenance you pay – it all gets passed on to your children.
The CSA doesn’t exist to punish absent parents – financial support is just one of the responsibilities of being a parent, no matter where the child lives. (Bear in mind that the CSA can only arrange child maintenance for children who live in the UK. But even if they live abroad, you can still provide financially for them through the courts or by making an arrangement with their other parent.)