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Ask the Legal Expert: Child Maintenance Responsibilities

View profile for Matthew Wells
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Matthew Wells, an Associate Solicitor in our Family Team, and a specialist in divorce, financial disputes and cohabitation agreements, tackles the issue of child maintenance responsibilities.

"I am a single mother with a two-year-old son from a brief relationship. My son’s father and I were never married and didn’t live together so he refuses to provide any financial support.  He is very wealthy whereas I am struggling financially. Is there anything I can do?"    

Cases like these can be daunting for those involved and they are, by their nature, emotionally difficult. While it is the case that unmarried couples with children who separate don’t have the same legal remedies as married couples who are divorcing, you do have some meaningful options.

The unmarried parent of a child can seek financial provision for the child through the Child Maintenance Service. Usually this results in weekly/monthly payments calculated according to a set formula based on the other party’s income. The alternative is to make an application for financial provision under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989. 

Before going down this route I would advise you to make a self-referral to a  family mediation service to try to reach an amicable financial agreement with your former partner, for the benefit of your son, including voluntary child maintenance payments.

If this is unsuccessful you should make an application via the Child Maintenance Options Service (www.cmoptions.org) for payments under the statutory Child Maintenance Service. Be aware that there are some fees and charges for using the Child Maintenance Service.

It is usually the role of the Child Maintenance Service to decide how much the paying parent should give to the child’s main carer and they would then take enforcement action if payments are not made.  However, the Courts retain jurisdiction to make or vary Orders for maintenance of children in some circumstances too, including for a top-up maintenance Order if the paying parent’s gross income exceeds £156,000.00 per annum, or if the court deems that the absent parent should contribute towards school fees.

I would also strongly advise you to seek advice from a specialist family lawyer, with a view to making an application for financial provision under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989. Under this act the Court can make financial Orders for the benefit of your son, which include covering any expenses incurred in connection with the birth of your son, or in maintaining your son, or to settle property for the benefit of your son, (for example an Order could be made for your son’s father to provide a home for you and your son).   

To sum up, even though you and your ex partner didn’t live together there are options available to you to and I strongly advise you to seek specialist advice from a family law solicitor.

The question posed in this blog is based on a hypothetical situation.

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