What can be done to protect victims?
Child Maintenance is payable in the UK when a child spends unequal overnights with one parent over another and is payable by the child’s parents, regardless of whether have ever been in a relationship at all.
The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) provides a service to parents who are not able to agree the amount or to facilitate the practical arrangements. They are also able to trace parents who are trying to avoid payments as well as sorting out disagreements regarding parentage. One of the main ways in which the CMS is looking to improve its service is by better supporting victims of domestic abuse.
Whilst child maintenance has always posed issues between separated parent this issue has perhaps been most uncertain for victims of domestic abuse.
A recent review into the CMS and how they protect victims of abuse confirmed that new measures and laws are due to come into effect to protect those who need to use the system but also require additional protection.
The CMS says that all CMS customers are asked if they have experienced or witnessed domestic abuse and customers are then signposted to the National Domestic Violence Helpline (0808 2000 247). If the customer is in immediate danger then they are advised to call the police or asked whether they consent to CMS contacting the police on their behalf.
The CMS also lists their specific support systems for victims of domestic abuse, as follows:
- A definition of domestic abuse is used that is not limited to incidents involving a former partner and includes abuse that may have been experienced by the parent and/or their child(ren). It includes any instance of domestic abuse which has been reported to an appropriate body or person, although no evidence is required.
- Waiving the £20 CMS application fee for survivors of domestic abuse.
- Mandatory staff training on how to respond to domestic abuse issues.
- There are two payment arrangements. Direct Pay, where the CMS works out the calculation and parents arrange payments between themselves when both parents agree. And Collect and Pay, where the CMS collects payments from a paying parent and passes it onto the receiving payment for a fee. Work will be undertaken to look at ways in which survivors could be exempted from charges in Collect and Pay arrangements.
- The Direct Pay service is designed to be a safe service for victims of domestic abuse and allows customers to avoid collection charges. Support available within the Direct Pay service stream includes facilitating the exchange of bank details, ensuring personal information is not shared, and providing information about setting up bank accounts which do not allow parents to be traced.
- Further measures include non-traceable payment methods, which keep parents’ locations hidden and ensures there is no unwanted contact with an ex-partner.
- The Get Help Arranging Child Maintenance website contains advice and information on staying safe and signposting information to specialist support organisations.
- The introduction of a Complex Needs Toolkit and Domestic Abuse Plan for caseworkers, which provide clear steps to follow to support customers who are experiencing abuse. The Toolkit and Plan are regularly reviewed and strengthened.
The new changes coming in will mean that survivors of domestic abuse will now be given the choice to allow the CMS to collect and make payments to the other parent on their behalf, without needing the consent of the other parent. It will also give the CMS new powers to report suspected financial coercion and control to the CPS as well as additional support and training for staff.
As detailed above, child maintenance is calculated by looking at the arrangements for the children and it can become particularly relevant when looking at financial matters and child arrangement disputes. When considering child maintenance alongside such a complicated issue as domestic abuse, it is important to obtain specialist legal advice from an expert family law solicitor. The team at Maguire Family Law are dedicated to helping clients reach a final outcome both in their financial claims and children disputes and provide support along the way. The specialist team at Maguire Family Law are also able to assist with domestic violence protection work.
For specialist advice on any family law related issue contact Maguire Family Law by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone: