Paying child maintenance; when does it stop?

A court has recently ruled that a father who won a £101 million Euromillions jackpot does not have to pay financial support to his 32-year-old-son whenever the son asks for a handout. Whilst this case doesn’t relate directly to a Family Law matter it does raise an interesting question.  At what point does a non-resident parent stop being financially responsible for their child?

A parent has a responsibility to maintain their child. This means that, unlike a divorcing couple, there can never be a clean break between a parent and their child.  In order to ensure that a parent’s duty is fulfilled, the Child Support Act 1991(CSA 1991) was introduced as a mechanism for the recovery of such monies from absent parents. The Act also took away the issue of child support from the purview of the courts. However, it is a controversial area of Family Law and sometimes evokes images of fathers dressed in superhero costumes protesting over the right to see their child. It also didn’t help that, after it was set up, the Child Support Agency came under heavy criticism for being costly and ineffectual. In order to address these criticisms the Act has been amended significantly and, in 2008, Sir David Henshaw published a report which made many recommendations for change. This resulted in the Child Maintenance and Other payments Act 2008 (CMOPA 2008) which introduced the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).  As a result of the CMOPA 2008, non-resident parents must pay child support maintenance for qualifying children to the parent with care from their weekly gross income. These payments must continue until the child is 16 or until they are 19 if they are still in full-time, non-advanced education i.e. at school. Where care is shared there is some reduction in the level of child support paid by the non-resident parent. For example if the child stays overnight with the non-resident parent between 52-103 times in a year there will be one-seventh reduction in maintenance. 

Generally speaking a court has no power to make, vary or receive any maintenance order in relation to a child and a non-resident parent. However the court does retain jurisdiction to make a maintenance order for the benefit of a child in certain circumstances. These include, for example, where the parent is wealthy and a top-up provision would be appropriate because the non-resident parent’s gross weekly income exceeds a prescribed amount. These ‘top-up’ orders are rare in practice. Other examples include children who are in advanced education or training, to pay private school fees or to pay for any additional needs of disabled children. A court may also be able to make a child maintenance order where a written maintenance agreement exists and the order is in exactly the same terms as the agreement.

In this instance the father obviously no longer has a financial responsibility towards his 32-year-old son. However, had that son been below the age of 16 and not living with him then the father would, indeed, have had a duty to pay child support maintenance.

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