Family lawyer Rebecca Patience examines recent government plans to make changes to the law surrounding child maintenance.
Earlier this month, the government announced plans to remove a legal loophole that is often used by non-resident parents in an effort to avoid paying child maintenance.
Following separation both parents are legally required to provide financial support towards the upbringing of their children. If a non-resident parent is failing to provide financial support for their child, or if separated parents cannot agree on an appropriate level of child support, matters are referred to the child maintenance service who independently assess the situation and seek to recover funds.
What is the legal loophole?
Despite the involvement of the child maintenance service, statistics released earlier this year indicate that there is currently a backlog of more that £3.8 billion in uncollected child maintenance payments from non-resident parents. Despite the department of work and pensions actively seeking to recover unpaid sums, figures suggest that there are currently 1.2 million people in the UK that owe child maintenance.
As the law stands if a parent owes child maintenance and is not willing to make voluntary payment, the child maintenance service can take funds directly from a bank account held in their sole name. There is no power to remove funds from a bank account held in joint names. Therefore, in an effort to avoid paying child support and to prevent the child maintenance service recovering funds some non-resident parents open joint accounts with new partners.
What are the government’s plans?
In the recent announcement from the government, plans have been confirmed to change the law enabling the child maintenance service to withdraw funds from a joint account. These funds will only be taken from a joint account if the non-resident parent does not have a sole account or they have insufficient funds in their sole account to meet the maintenance payments. It’s hoped that this change in legislation will help to reduce the number of non-resident parents avoiding payment.
However, some family law practitioners have raised concerns that the proposed change could cause problems as it may be difficult to ascertain what funds in a joint account belong to which joint account holder.
The government has addressed these concerns by confirming that the bank statements of any joint account will be reviewed to establish which funds belong to the paying parent and both account holders will be given the right to make their case before any money is taken.
By putting these steps in place, it is hoped the anticipated problems will be avoided, resulting in more unpaid maintenance being recovered.