Transforming child maintenance: Chloe's story
Last updated: 24/01/2024
Chloe* has two children and started using the Child Maintenance System after she separated from her children’s dad due to domestic abuse.
Transforming Child Maintenance
Find out more about the Transforming Child Maintenance project, a partnership project between OPFS, Fife Gingerbread and IPPR Scotland, working with parents, practitioners, and policymakers to make the case for a fairer system for children and families.
“My children are 7 and 9. I separated from their dad over 5 years ago due to domestic abuse, and I started using the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) in 2019 as the resident parent. The CMS should be an effective way of preventing economic abuse being another factor to contend with but sadly it often enhances these issues instead.
In my case, my children’s dad runs a successful Ltd company with two offices, many members of staff, company cars and a long history of high income. Yet for the first two years he managed to get away with paying based upon minimum wage only.
Poor advice from CMS staff meant I did not realise I could appeal this at tribunal. This meant our children missed out on the maintenance they should have been due for two years. The CMS don’t have processes that allow proper calculations to be made for Ltd company directors.
During the last four years of dealing with the CMS, I have had horrendous communication issues: letters unanswered, phone calls not answered or answered then hung up, being promised to be called back and then no response, incorrect information provided (e.g., being told I couldn’t go to tribunal when this would in fact have been the best option), new calculations made with no explanation as to why changes have been made.
There are far too many loopholes and a lack of interest from CMS staff. The only way to resolve this is to go through endless paperwork to do a variation, then mandatory reconsideration then go to tribunal. There is no easy resolution via the CMS but as this is the official way of resolving financial issues, it cannot be mentioned in family court.
Although future years were resolved via tribunal, this was a very convoluted and time-consuming process that will need to be repeated annually. The CMS do not appear to be allowed to consider tribunal decisions for future years. Where a tribunal has ruled on an issue previously that is likely to continue, in our case diversion of income, I think this should be used for future years unless there are significant changes.
The following are things I think would help:
- There should be a fast-track option for people dealing with Ltd Company Directors to avoid having to go through processes that have been proven not to work. Currently parents need to go through several stages and provide the same evidence multiple times to be allowed to go to tribunal.
- The CMS should automatically use tax return info on all income for Ltd company directors to make calculations. This would reduce the onus on receiving parents to try and prove income.
- Maximum pension deduction levels should automatically be applied for Ltd company directors (there are standard percentages that tribunals already use).
- Where a tribunal finds evidence of diversion of income, it should be possible to be apply this to future years unless circumstances can be proven to have changed significantly.
- The CMS should use the most recent tax year for calculations where possible instead of allowing paying parents to pick and choose. The same tax year should not be used twice unless there are extenuating circumstances.
- The tax year for dividends and for earned income should be for the same year. My ex swapped how he took his income in our first claim year, which meant maintenance was based on minimum wage despite him having an income of £50,000 the previous tax year.
- CMS change of calculation letters should give a clear reason and calculation for why payments have changed.
I would also like to see penalties for parents that evade child maintenance, and I would like tribunal rulings to include comment on whether the situation is deemed a form of economic abuse. I think this would help reduce the CMS being used as an ongoing source of post separation abuse, which is what happened in our case and is unfortunately a very common issue.