How can I vary the amount of child maintenance I receive?
There are many reasons why you may have concerns about the level of child maintenance that you are receiving from your child’s other parent. For example, you may believe that their level of income has changed since the child maintenance figure was calculated, that their income was not properly taken into account in the first place or the arrangements for your child might have changed, so that they are now spending more time one parent than they did in the past.
Child maintenance is always variable, so that it can continue to keep pace with these changes in circumstances. This is the case even when a formal calculation is produced by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).
How do you go about varying the child maintenance that is currently in place?
If you have an informal arrangement in place with the paying parent, you can simply undertake your own review of the child maintenance. You may find it helpful to use the CMS online calculator as a guide. Ultimately, you will need to liaise with the paying parent about what impact the change in circumstances should have upon the level of payments. If you cannot reach an agreement about this, either of you can apply to the CMS for a calculation, which is why it is so useful to use their online calculator to guide discussions.
Alternatively, if you have obtained a CMS calculation, which you now want to vary, you will need to contact the CMS about this. The steps you will need to take, and the approach taken by the CMS, will depend on the particular change of circumstance that has led to the review, the most common of which are set out below:
What if the child maintenance calculation doesn’t take into account all of the paying parent’s income?
CMS will take the information about the paying parent’s income, which is used to calculate the amount of child maintenance to be paid, from HMRC. Initially, this will generally only include ‘earned’ income (ie a salary, bonus, etc). If the paying parent is self-employed, or receives dividends from a company / rental income from investment properties, this may not be taken into consideration in the initial child maintenance calculation.
In these circumstances, you can ask the CMS for a ‘variation’, to take into account the paying parent’s income from all sources, not just those that were included in the original calculation. To be successful in your variation application, you will need to show that:
- the paying parent receives un-earned income of at least £2,500 per year (for example, rental income from properties, interest on investments, or dividends from companies); or
- the paying parent is diverting their income – for example, if they have a company which is generating significant profits, but they aren’t paying any of this to themselves; or
- the paying parent receives earned income which has not been taken into account.
What if the arrangements for my child have changed since the child maintenance calculation was made?
If there has been a change in circumstances since the child maintenance calculation was made, this is likely to change the amount that should be paid. This is because the CMS take into account how many nights (on average) per week the child stays with the paying parent, in calculating the amount of child maintenance due. It is important to note that there will only be a change to the child maintenance payable where there has been a change in the number of overnights your child spends with the paying parent. If you simply agree to swap days / nights but each retain responsibility for your child for the same number of overnights in total, there will be no change to the child maintenance payable.
If the arrangements for your child change you can ask the CMS for a ‘supersession’. They will then update their child maintenance calculation to take into account the change in circumstances.
What if the paying parent has changed jobs or received a pay rise since the child maintenance calculation was made?
Generally, the CMS will update the child maintenance calculation on an annual basis. However, there are some situations in which the CMS will update the calculation mid-way through the year, if the paying parent’s circumstances have changed significantly.
The paying parent is required to notify the CMS immediately if there is a change in their employment circumstances. This includes:
- changing jobs, or starting a new job;
- becoming unemployed;
- starting or stopping being self-employed; or
- their pay (before tax) increases or decreases by at least 25%.
If the paying parent has not done this but you are aware that one of these changes has taken place, you can inform the CMS of the change. The CMS will then update their calculation to take this into account. Any change to the amount of maintenance you receive may be backdated to the date when the paying parent’s circumstances changed.
What can I do at the outset, to minimise the need to apply for a variation further down the line?
In most cases, the difficulty is that you may not be aware of any relevant changes to the paying parent’s circumstances, and cannot therefore ensure that the level of child maintenance keeps pace with those changes. It is not uncommon for paying parents to become reluctant to share information about their finances following separation. However, this is vital if you are to ensure that the child maintenance you receive remains at an appropriate level. It can be invaluable to agree with the paying parent that they will continue to provide their P60 / tax return (as appropriate) on an annual basis.
If you have any concerns about the level of child maintenance for your family and would like further advice about this and your options for varying the amount of child maintenance, please contact our specialist family team.