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Shared care disputes will be as divisive as ever in child maintenance cases

Since the child maintenance formula provided for discount for the paying parent who had overnight care of the children, ‘day counting’ has been a key factor in many child maintenance cases – and, sadly, many child contact arrangements.

Under the new formula, new rules have made this an even more hotly contested issue, and the impact of the new rules can be even greater.  There are two major resulting issues:

–       Under the gross income formula there is no maintenance calculation where care of the child/children is shared equally.

–       However, whereas the government intention of the rule change previously seemed to be that no calculation meant no liability, that does not seem to be the case.

–       What the regulations actually say is that where there is equal care, there is no parent with care to the lesser degree and so there can be no Non-Resident Parent for child maintenance purposes.

–        Where there is no Non-Resident Parent then the Child Maintenance Service do not have jurisdiction.  If the Child Maintenance Service does not have jurisdiction then the court does.

–       The first result is that high earning joint-care fathers are fighting to show that they do not have equal care and so remain within the CMS jurisdiction.  If the court gets hold of a case where it can make an order, very high maintenance awards are being made in appropriate cases.

–       The second result, is that parents are even more guarded when looking to make arrangements for shared care of the children, with a view on the potential financial impact on them.  Alternatively they make child contact arrangements without being aware of the impact on their maintenance and only discover the effect of this rule afterwards.

The advice is to be aware that the courts are starting to deal with these cases following the recent rule change; whether or not that is welcome news for you will depend on your circumstances but you certainly should be aware of the impact.