The complex and confusing system of child support is about to undergo radical changes.
We have seen this before - the old rules which once applied to all cases were replaced by the new rules for all new cases which began after March 2003. Despite the CSA's intentions, very few old rules cases were ever converted into new rules.
The 2012 rules coming into effect after mid-October of this year will fairly soon apply to all cases, though the precise date for conversion hasn't been published yet. The CSA will probably begin with the clerical cases - in other words the most complicated ones which
cost most to administer.
Some time over the next year or two, if you are a party to a child support case, you will get a letter intimating that the case is about to close in either 30 days or 6 months, depending on when the case began. You will then have to decide whether or not to apply under the 2012 Scheme or attempt to reach an informal agreement with the other party. If you can't reach an agreement, you can apply under the new scheme but may have to convince the CSA that you tried hard enough to settle the case with the other party. I think we can confidently predict difficulties in this area.
If you do apply under the 2012 scheme you will find several major (and many minor) changes from the existing position.
For a start the income on which the maintenance calculation will be made is the non-resident parent's gross income, not his net income - and the income will not be established by looking at the most recent wage slips, personal accounts etc, but rather at the most recent Tax Return. Different sets of percentages will apply depending on the number of children concerned. The non-resident parent's income may change over the year, up or down, but the change will be ignored unless it amounts to more than 25% of the previously used figure.
Just as before, the non-resident parent will be entitled to a reduction in his payment if the child stays overnight with him for one night per week or more on average. But if the parties cannot agree the number of nights, the CSA will statutorily assume that the child is resident with the non-resident parent on one night per week.
The rule which allows the CSA to deem the non-resident parent to have additional income based on 8% of his net assets, excluding the house in which he lives, is abolished. So is the rule which allows the parent with care to point out that the non-resident parent cannot possibly be restricted to his declared income, taking into account his expensive lifestyle.
Even the word "child" has been re-defined as a person under the age of 20 in respect of whom Child Benefit is payable.
One of the problems affecting the sort of informal agreement which the Government would prefer you to use as opposed to using the child support system at all, is that the agreement cannot be relied upon to last for more than 12 months. After that date either party may apply for a Child Support Maintenance Calculation which will replace whatever the agreement said about aliment for a child, although agreements about School fees will remain in place.
That's one rule which may yet be changed - watch this space or contact a member of our family law team for more information.