Child Maintenance Contracts
Child maintenance contracts are written or verbal agreements between two parents. One parent will agree to pay the parent residing with the child or children a fixed amount of money to take care of the child. The agreements can either be made by a private arrangement or by the use of a court order.
Private AgreementsPrivate agreements regarding child maintenance can have their advantages and disadvantages. On one hand it may be more simple and straightforward than involving solicitors and the legal system, and it may enhance some form of trust and goodwill between the parents. On the other hand if disputes do occur between the parents then there is no guarantee that the parent who is paying the maintenance will stick to the agreed payments. If this happens then the only recourse for the resident parent may by to take legal action.
Verbal or Written AgreementsAlthough verbal contracts are legally binding it is always a wise move to have all agreements made in writing. By doing this the written contract can be referenced at a future date if disputes between the parents do occur. When drafting a contract the parents should discuss exactly the terms and conditions of the contract, how much is to be paid and the frequency of the payments. There should also be the possibility of a review date for changing any conditions. For example if one parent were to move abroad or remarry would the maintenance payments change or continue as before.
A family solicitor can help if the parents would like the terms and conditions to be of a more formal nature. It may also be a good idea to have the agreement witnessed, and also signed and dated by both parents. In many cases if both parents do have a good relationship with each other then there may not be the need for a formal written agreement. But there is no guarantee that this amicable relationship will continue in the future. It may be in the child’s best interests to have a written child maintenance contract in place.
A Legally Binding Private AgreementPrivately agreed child maintenance contracts can be made legally binding by using a consent order. If the agreements were made with the help of mediators or family solicitor then a court can grant a consent order to enforce the child maintenance contract if the paying parent breaks the agreement.
The consent order can only be granted if an arrangement between the parents regarding child maintenance has been agreed. A solicitor will then present the information to the courts; this is known as a statement of information. If the court decides the agreement is fair, and a consent order is granted, then the child maintenance contract will be legally enforceable.
Child Support AgencyThe Child Support Agency (CSA) can be brought in to force parents to pay maintenance for their children. They will calculate how much the non resident parent should be paying and they will have different methods available for enforcing the payments. Non payment of child maintenance is taken very seriously and action can be taken through the courts to enforce any child maintenance contracts that have been made and broken, or if a parent simply refuses to pay the maintenance.
The consequences of not paying child maintenance can include arrestment of earnings, seizure of goods and a disqualification of the non payer’s driving licence. The ultimate consequence could be prison for the non payer.
Child maintenance contracts will always be a sensitive subject. For most parents, paying child support will be a natural and straightforward process. But there will always be some non resident parents who, for one reason or another, will not or cannot pay maintenance. It is exactly for this reason, and for the welfare of the child, that child maintenance contracts and the Child Support Agency exist, and should be used.