Weekly Family Law Update August 10, 2023

New measure to help abuse victims get child maintenance

A parent who has suffered domestic abuse at the hands of the other parent is highly likely to have difficulty in securing child maintenance payments from the other parent.

Apart from just refusing to pay, abusers often withhold payments as a means of controlling their victims, thereby prolonging the abuse.

Thankfully, new legislation has just been passed aimed at helping victims of domestic abuse receive the child maintenance they so often vitally need.

The Child Support Collection (Domestic Abuse) Act 2023, which received Royal Assent on the 29th June, seeks to ensure that victims of domestic abuse can receive child maintenance without contact from their abuser.

Before explaining the new legislation we must first look at how a parent goes about securing child maintenance if they are unable to agree matters with the other parent.

The Child Maintenance Service

If the parents can’t agree child maintenance arrangements between themselves then one of them, usually the parent with care of the child(ren), will have to apply to the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’), for the CMS to sort out the maintenance for them.

The CMS offers two services: Direct Pay, and Collect & Pay. With Direct Pay, the CMS calculates the amount of the maintenance and a payment schedule, but payments are arranged privately between the two parents. With Collect & Pay, the CMS calculates how much maintenance should be paid, collects the money from the paying parent and pays it to the receiving parent.

Until now Direct Pay has been the default option, unless the paying parent agrees to use Collect & Pay, or demonstrates an unwillingness to pay their liability. Direct Pay has been used even when allegations of domestic abuse have been made.

Obviously, this has given abusers the opportunity to continue their abuse because the victim has to have continued contact with them, and by withholding or delaying payments.

Extending Collect & Pay

The new Act protects abuse victims by extending the Collect & Pay service to victims of domestic abuse, regardless of the payment history, thus enabling victims to avoid entirely any need to transact with the other parent.

The way that this will work is that the parent with care of the child(ren) may request the CMS to move the case to the Collect & Pay service because of the abuse they have received.

If the CMS is satisfied that there has been abuse then they will move the case to the Collect & Pay service.

The victim will need to provide evidence of the abuse. The type of evidence accepted is likely to be similar to that required when an abuse victim is claiming legal aid, for example evidence that the alleged abuser has been arrested for a relevant domestic violence offence, a relevant conviction for a domestic violence offence, a relevant protective injunction, or a letter from an appropriate health professional.

The relevant provisions of the Act will come into force on a date to be announced.

The new measure has been welcomed both within and outside of government.

Work and Pensions Minister Viscount Younger of Leckie said:

“Domestic abuse and coercive control are abhorrent crimes. This positive change will enhance our existing support for domestic abuse victims and ensure they can make a child maintenance claim without the fear of having to deal with an abusive ex-partner.”

And Dr Samantha Callan, who led an independent review into the CMS’s support for victims which reported last January, said:

“I am heartened that the Government have so quickly legislated to strengthen support for parents experiencing domestic abuse following my Review. This extra layer of protection for both parents and children was an important one of my recommendations to build on the CMS’s substantial reform in this area.”