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3 Divorce and Separation

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1. Introduction

2. Where to start

3. Separation

4. Divorce

5. If you have children

6. Supporting your children

The rules about child support and the Child Support Agency (CSA) changed in March 2003. If you were assessed under the old rules, the CSA will transfer you to the new system eventually. The information that follows is about the new rules.

How do I get maintenance for the children who are living with me?
How you get maintenance for your children, once you split up, depends on your situation.

If you are getting Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance, you must normally use the CSA. If you are not getting Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance, you can make an agreement about maintenance with your husband or wife. This can be made into a court order if you both agree, and if you are also asking the court to make orders about other financial matters. Alternatively, you can use the CSA, if
it has jurisdiction.

The CSA has jurisdiction if all of the following apply to you:

  • The child is the child (by birth or adoption) of both parents. (This means that step-children cannot get support from their step-parents under the CSA.)
  • The parent with care, the non-resident parent and the child all normally live in the UK. (This includes people who are living abroad but working for UK employers.)
  • The non-resident parent is not living in the same household as the child.
  • The child is under 16 or over 16 and still in full-time secondary education.

If you already have a court order for maintenance, the CSA will be able to make an assessment only if:

  • the court stops the order for maintenance ('discharges the order'); or
  • the parent with care starts to claim welfare benefits.

What happens if the Child Support Agency does not have jurisdiction?
In cases where the CSA does not have jurisdiction, such as where the non-resident parent is abroad, or you need maintenance from a step-parent, you can use the court. You can also get an order from the court:

  • for school fees;
  • for the particular needs of a disabled child;
  • for a 'top-up' order if the maintenance that the CSA can order reaches a ceiling - though this is set very high in the first place (see 'Is there a limit to what the non-resident parent has to pay?'); or
  • to vary an existing order.

If your child's father or mother lives abroad, there are ways of enforcing a maintenance order made in the courts here. You will need a solicitor's help to do this.

How is Child Support Agency maintenance worked out?
The old rules before March 2003 had a complicated formula using both parents' incomes. The new rules are more straightforward, and are based on the non-resident parent's after-tax earnings.

Is there a limit to what the non-resident parent has to pay?
Yes. From their net income a non-resident parent can take off all pension contributions (but not housing costs) and an allowance for any new children or step children.
He or she will then pay:

  • 15 per cent of the net figure for one child;
  • 20 per cent for two children; or
  • 25 per cent for three or more children.

The amount of child support paid for the children depends on the number of nights they spend with each of you. If you have children who live with you in a second family, this will be taken into account when child support is calculated.

The CSA is able to calculate maintenance on the net income of the non-resident parent only up to £2,000 a week. If their income is higher than this, you may be able to get a top-up order from the court.

How do I apply for maintenance?
If you are receiving benefit, Jobcentre Plus staff will normally help you fill in an application form. If you are not receiving benefit but you want to use the Child Support Agency, you can get an application form from the CSA (See 'Further help' for details). After you have returned the completed form, the CSA will write to your husband or wife with another form that they have to fill in and return within four weeks. The CSA will then make a maintenance assessment and tell you both how much it should be. If you are receiving Income Support or Jobseeker's Allowance, you can keep up to £10 a week from the maintenance paid by your ex-partner before it affects the amount of benefit that you get. 

If I don't have to use the Child Support Agency, what can I do?
You can make an agreement with your husband or wife. You can work out what you think is a fair figure. Your solicitor should be able to tell you how much child support you would have to pay if you used the CSA instead, though this might not suit your situation. If you agree a figure with your husband or wife, and make a written maintenance agreement, you can ask the court during the divorce proceedings to include this amount as part of a consent order dealing with other financial issues. This would make the amount legally binding, and you could then enforce the order if your husband or wife did not pay.

What if we can't agree?
You will have to use the CSA and apply through them. Neither of you will have any say in how much should be paid.

7. Money and property

8. Making arrangements should you die

9. Dealing with emergencies

10. Terms used in divorce and family law

11. Further Help

12. About this leaflet

This leaflet is published by the Legal Services Commission (LSC). It was written in association with Imogen Clout, a solicitor specialising in family law.

Leaflet version: May 2019

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