What happened to the CSA?

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Sadly (some would say) the CSA has not gone away – it has just had a few makeovers since it was first introduced by the Child Support Act 1991. Even specialist family Solicitors have been bemused by the Government’s various proposals and initiatives over the years relating to the CSA. It was not that many years ago that the CSA was re-launched, to a silent fanfare, as the catchily named Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC). It too was abolished and its workload transferred to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), who also took over responsibility for the new free information service which was introduced to help parents make choices about child support, snappily known as Child Maintenance Options (CMO).

So CSA became CMEC then the DWP rebranded it as CMO. It all sounds far too much like algebra at school and that’s before doing any sums!

The calculation of child maintenance introduced by the Child Support Act 1991 almost required a degree in mathematics to understand and the cumbersome assessment procedures of the CSA required considerable patience. The complex calculations were then replaced by a much more simplistic (some would say unfair) calculation in 2003 based on a tiered percentage of the net income of the parent paying child support, unsympathetically described as “the absent parent”, with a discount for that paying parent if he or she had other children. Much to the understandable annoyance of the receiving parent in the first family with a discount for the paying parent if he or she was in a new relationship with children even if the children were not his!

Prior to 1991 if you needed to arrange child maintenance it either had to be agreed between the parents direct or alternatively an application to the Court would be needed to determine the correct level of child support at often quite considerable legal expense to the parties. The Child Support Act effectively did away with all that and introduced an administrative rather than a judicial exercise.

CMO very much encourages what is described as a “family based arrangement” where CMO will provide advice and assistance on how to calculate child maintenance. Mediation can often help if both parents are willing to discuss the financial arrangements face to face. The Divorce Court still has power to approve a Child maintenance agreement as part of an overall Financial Consent Order but retains only very limited powers to calculate the level of child support and as a last resort if agreement cannot be reached and the Court do not have power to make the child maintenance assessment, then a statutory Child Maintenance Application can be made through CMO.

As always if in any doubt as to your legal rights you should always consider taking independent legal advice tailored to your own unique family situation.

Paul Jordan is a Partner at Slee Blackwell Solicitors who specialises in advising in complex finance cases. His telephone number is 01271 349959 and by email [email protected]