Anita Garside

Anita Garside

anitagarside

Anita is a specialist senior solicitor and accredited member of the Law Society Family Law Accreditation Scheme, and has specialised in family and divorce law since 1995. Anita also specialises in children’s matters, pre and post nuptial agreements, co-habitation agreements, separation agreements, property disputes between unmarried couples, and civil partnership matters.


The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) and Child Support Agency (CSA) will start sharing information regarding payment records with credit reference agencies as from next year (from March 2015, subject to Parliamentary approval). Maintenance arrears will then be considered in the detrimental way on credit scores as other debts.

Although it is planned, this will only apply to those who breach a liability order (imposed for persistent non payment of child maintenance through the CMS/CSA) it is likely to affect a significant number of parents since no fewer than around 12,400 liability orders were granted from April 2013 to March 2014.

The effect of this may well encourage separated parents to comply with liability orders since if they do not, their credit rating will be adversely affected, resulting in them being refused mortgages and other loans, credit cards, tenancy agreements and so on.

Another “plus” is that non-resident parent with a good payment record may request this information to be shared in order to improve their respective credit ratings.

In relation to CMS/CSA child maintenance assessments these only apply to “natural” children between parents, and not step children (unless they have been adopted by the parties). Assessments by the CMS depart from the previous calculation on net earnings, and are now calculated on gross taxable annual income instead (11% for one child, 14% for two, and 16% for three or more children; with a reduction depending on how many nights a week the child(ren) stay with the non-resident parent). The CSA no longer takes on new cases but will still handle cases opened before November 25, 2013. It is planned that most cases will be moved from the CSA to the CMS in due course.

The maximum the CMS take into account is £3,000 per week for the purpose of calculations. Although the Family Court does not generally have the power to make child maintenance orders the parent with care however in these circumstances has the option to apply to the family court for a “top up” of child maintenance.

An application to the CMS may be avoided however if the parties agree the level of child maintenance. This may be formalised through a child maintenance agreement, or alternatively, in divorce proceedings the Family Court has the power to make an order for child maintenance at an agreed level. Strangely enough, although the court does not have the power to set the level of child maintenance initially, it can once the order has been made go on to vary the amount paid in the future. This however may suit those who wish to avoid the CMS and potentially have more flexibility in respect of the child maintenance calculation.

Neither the CSA nor the CMS have the power to make a child maintenance assessment for step children. I find in practice that not many people realise that the Family Court in divorce proceedings has the power to make child maintenance orders however against non resident spouses, so long as the step child(ren) have been treated as “children of the family” during the marriage. Further, the Family Court also has the power to make child maintenance orders against non resident parents who live and work abroad.

Should you wish to take any advice on any of the issues raised by this article, please contact the author Anita Garside of Ringrose Law, 2 & 2a Bargate, Newark, NG1 2ES, or call 01636 594460, or email [email protected]

Anita is a specialist senior solicitor and accredited member of the Law Society Family Law Accreditation Scheme, and has specialised in family and divorce law since 1995. Anita also specialises in children’s matters, pre and post nuptial agreements, co-habitation agreements, separation agreements, property disputes between unmarried couples, and civil partnership matters.

The first day legal offices open in the New Year is traditionally called “D-Day” – Divorce Day.

By then, some couples have spent a concentrated and often stressful time together over the Christmas break. Typically, leading up to Christmas the financial pressures on families has resulted in over spending, those anxieties generally being put to one side during the festivities only to lurk like a dark shadow waiting for reality to kick in come the New Year.

Coupled with the ongoing juggling of work/family commitments, it is no surprise cracks in a relationship become more apparent, or even develop during this time.

The New Year therefore often beckons circumspection and assessment regarding life issues generally, and particularly the future of relationships. Now is a time that many will contemplate a split as a result.

However, if you are one of those people, it is important to fully understand the possible consequences and significance of divorce.

Whilst it may be hard for couples to contemplate struggling with the tensions of an unhappy relationship, nevertheless, if there does appear to be a chance of reconciliation, counselling or mediation may be a sensible option rather than simply jumping into a divorce situation. Both parties would have to agree to attend and be up front and honest, confronting problems in the hope resolution can be achieved to get the relationship back on track. If that is not an option, or third party help does not succeed, then divorce may be inevitable.

In summary, as the law stands, you must have been married for a year before a Divorce Petition may be issued. Unless you are prepared to wait for at least two years, you would have to issue on the basis of your spouse’s adultery, or behaviour, to issue immediately.

Since it would be unusual for both parties to have behaved impeccably towards the other throughout the marriage, behaviour petitions are relatively popular. However simply being ‘fed up’ or ‘bored’ with the other party wouldn’t be enough, unless there was a genuine and deliberate failure on the other party to try and engage in the relationship.

Defended petitions are a rarity, extremely expensive and time consuming, not to mention very damaging for the immediate and extended family, and notably any final hearing would be held in a Court open to the public – not a pleasant prospect.

Undefended petitions, the norm, are confidential between the parties, their Solicitors, and the Court. Divorce on this basis would be achieved in about four months, and follows a prescribed procedure which your Solicitor would be able to guide you through. There is a six week period before Decree Absolute may be applied for, which would enable both parties to remarry.

However, the application for Decree Absolute is usually postponed until financial matters between the parties have been resolved. It is important to remember that no matter how small you feel your asset pool is worth, or high your income, the legal issues are still complex. You may well prejudice you and your children’s futures if you do not take proper sound legal advice. There may also be children’s issues to be resolved concerning residence and contact.

Although the availability of Legal Aid has been limited in family cases, the cost of Legal Representation does not have to be out of your reach. Remember, if matters go badly wrong because you failed to take Legal Advice, it is likely to cost a lot more to put things right.

It would also prolong matters, create unnecessary bad feeling and acrimony – long term damage to all concerned which may be difficult to mend.

Your Solicitor would provide you with an estimate of costs at your first appointment, and here at Ringrose Law we offer a Fixed Fee Service for all range of family matters from Mediation, Divorce, Financial Matters, Pre and Post-Nuptial Agreements.

Naturally, if a negotiated settlement can be achieved, that is the best way forward and to be encouraged. It is important however to obtain a Final Order from the Court in the Divorce ratifying any agreement which is reached to prevent future arguments.

Remember, it is important for both parties to mutually exchange full details of their assets and income as otherwise any subsequent agreement/Order made could be set aside in the future. Honesty and openness must always be the best policy, but within the framework of proper sound Legal Advice.

Anita is a specialist senior solicitor and accredited member of the Law Society Family Law Accreditation Scheme, and has specialised in family and divorce law since 1995. Anita also specialises in children’s matters, pre and post nuptial agreements, co-habitation agreements, separation agreements, property disputes between unmarried couples, and civil partnership matters.