Financial Provision for Children from Unmarried/Cohabiting Families
If a couple have one or more children but are not married or in a civil partnership, the court can make financial orders for their child’s benefit under the Children Act 1989. Subject to their resources, the financially better off parent may have to provide dependent children and the parent caring for them with a home and/or other payments to meet their needs.
JMW has considerable expertise in this highly specialised area, acting for both paying and receiving parties, including cases involving high-net-worth individuals.
The majority of maintenance arrangements between separated parents are informal or family-based. Neither the court nor the Child Maintenance Service gets involved in setting the level of child maintenance or collecting the actual payments. If an appropriate level of maintenance is not being paid via an agreed arrangement, either parent can involve the Child Maintenance Service; however, the service is no longer free of charge for most cases.
For paying parents earning up to £3,000 gross per week, where the receiving parent and child are UK residents, any dispute regarding the level or collection of child maintenance will be dealt with by the Child Maintenance Service alone. They will calculate the amount of maintenance based on the paying parent’s income, the number of children in each relevant household and some specific other factors, including shared care, that may affect the amount payable.
About Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989
Where the paying parent has sufficient financial resources, the court can make one or a combination of the following orders:
- A maintenance order
- Schools fees orders
- Orders to meet the expenses arising from a child’s disability
- Lump sum orders to enable the receiving parent to pay expenses associated with bringing up the child, including provision of a car or furnishing a home
- An order that the paying parent provides a property for the child and the other parent to live in. The property is not usually transferred to the receiving parent outright. In many cases, it will be purchased on trust for the benefit of the child and reverts back to the parent who purchased it when the child reaches 18 years old or completes their education
In some cases, it is possible for a child themselves to make an application.
The court can also make interim orders to help with the legal costs of pursuing an application.
Maintenance Awarded by the Court
Although child maintenance disputes are normally handled by the Child Maintenance Service, there are a few exceptions to this. The court has the discretion to make a maintenance order if:
- The paying parent earns more than £3,000 gross per week (£156,000 per year). In this case, the court can award ‘top-up’ maintenance
- The child attends a fee-paying school or there is a need for assistance with other educational expenses, including nursery and university costs
- The child is disabled and a maintenance order is needed to meet expenses associated with their disability
How the Courts Decide
The court has a checklist of factors to consider before deciding what order to make, if any. These include:
- The income, earning capacity, property and financial resources of each parent
- The child’s financial needs and any resources they may have of their own
- Any disability on the part of the child
- How the child is being educated and any future plans for their education
It is difficult to say what level of income or assets a paying parent needs to have before the court will consider making an order for lump sums, housing provision or maintenance to cover educational expenses or costs associated with a child’s disability. Some of the reported cases might appear to suggest that this type of financial provision is only for the very wealthy. There have, nevertheless, been instances of parents of fairly modest means being ordered to assist with housing and other costs, in addition to any maintenance liability.