Fewer people are getting married with the obvious result that there are now more children whose parents are unmarried. Unfortunately, as many parents are finding out if their relationship ends, that can mean serious financial problems that need to be resolved. The remedies available to parents on a divorce or civil partnership are not applicable and there can be a real need to meet requirements for housing, school fees, transport etc.
There are some ways to get financial support if the separating couple have children. They are not perfect but can provide solutions.
For day-to day expenses, child support should be available. The governing body is the Child Maintenance Service which publishes a statutory formula for calculating how much child support should be paid. Many people use that formula and agree between themselves what is payable. If they can’t, the parent with care of the children can apply and the CMS will make an assessment and that is what has to be paid. The CMS can enforce any assessments that they make if necessary.
The other avenue is an underused resource – Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989. This can be used by any parent against the other legal parent or a stepparent to get financial assistance for the support of the children. The court can order periodical payments for the benefit of the child – this is not maintenance for the parent with care but can include an element of a “carer’s allowance”. The court will look at a number of factors in deciding what is reasonable including lifestyle and the wealth and resources of the parties. Such orders will usually last to a child’s 17th birthday, though can be extended if the child is still in full-time education.
The court can also order lump sum payments for specific expenses. This could, for instance, be for the purchase of a car, for a holiday or furniture to furnish a home. There is no limit, in theory, to the number of lump sums that can be applied for.
More crucially, the court has the power to order a transfer or settlement of property. It is however, important to realise that the property will revert back to the person providing it when the child in question reaches the age of 18 or ceases full-time education. These orders are for the benefit of the child, not the parent with care.
That being said, the court takes the view that the child is entitled to be brought up in circumstances that bear some resemblance with the absent parent’s resources and their current standard of living.
Given the above, the unmarried parent with care does have the prospect of achieving some financial help form their former partner but as ever, legal advice should be sought.
Stephen Root is a Director within Berwins’ Family team. If you require advice or support on any of the above, call our Family department on 01423 543 108.