You and the Child Support Agency
Parents have an obligation to support their children financially until they reach the age of 18, unless they are married or are adopted.
In some cases, because of an order of the court, the obligation to provide financial support can continue after the age of 18 to enable the child to complete higher education or because they are disabled.
A step-parent also can have an obligation to provide financial support if ordered by a court.
Parents are able to negotiate private agreements with each other on the amount of child support that will be paid. These formal agreements must follow strict legal requirements set out in legislation in order to be binding and enforceable. The courts do not recognise informal private agreements which do not follow the legal requirements.
If parents are unable to agree about a private agreement, then child support can be collected through the Child Support Agency which calculates the level of support in accordance with a formula under the Child Support (Assessment) Act 1989. The formula takes into account the following:
- The incomes of both parents.
- The amount of time that the child spends with each parent.
- Whether either parent pays child support for other children.
- A self-supporting amount which is set aside for each parent to meet their own living expenses; and
- The age of the child.
The Assessment Act also provides for grounds of review including :
- The higher costs of a child being educated in a private school.
- The child has special needs.
- Where the costs of spending time with the child are significant; and
- Where there are difficulties in calculating a parent’s income, for example because they are self-employed.
If your or the children’s circumstances change after an assessment you should promptly notify the Child Support Agency otherwise you could end up either paying too much, or being left with a child support debt.