Child Maintenance

What is Child Maintenance?

Both parents have a legal responsibility to maintain their children financially in accordance with their own financial means. This financial support is called child maintenance or child support. Married and unmarried parents are required to provide this financial support. The payment of child maintenance does not give a parent access or guardianship rights and nor does the non-payment of maintenance prevent access or guardianship.

When do I Have To Pay?

When the parents are residing together it is usual for the financial support for the child to be available without difficulty. It is when there is a relationship breakdown that problems can arise and parents disagree on the amount of child maintenance that should be paid. The payment is made by the parent that does not live with the child for the majority of the week and is paid to the other parent for the benefit of the child. The maintenance may be paid weekly or monthly or in a lump sum.

How Much Child Maintenance Should Be Paid?

There is no set amount or percentage of income that must be paid for child maintenance. The appropriate amount is different in every case and will be based on the financial circumstances of the parties involved. It is usual to look at the actual expenses related to the child and the available income of the parent paying the maintenance when working out a fair figure. Any obligation to another child must be taken into account as well.

What If We Cannot Agree on Child Maintenance?

If the parents cannot agree on the correct amount of maintenance to be paid then either parent can apply to court for a child maintenance order. An application for a maintenance order can be brought in the District Court or Circuit Court. Once in court, the Judge has the power to make an order in relation to the legal costs incurred. Each party must disclose their finances – income, savings, assets, outgoings, debts – to the court and the Judge will consider all of the circumstances when making a maintenance order.
The District Court can award any amount up €150 per week for each child so if more than this is required then you will need to apply to the Circuit Court.

When Does Child Maintenance End?

Child maintenance is payable for the benefit of a child who is under the age of 18 years or 23 years if the child is in full-time education. If the child is over 18 but under 23 and the financial circumstances do not allow the child to attend further education, maintenance can be applied for in order to facilitate further education. If the child has a mental or physical disability to such a degree that it is not possible for the child to maintain herself fully, then there is no age limit for seeking maintenance for child support.

We Agreed Maintenance Years Ago – Can It Be Changed?

Yes. The amount is never set in stone and it can be changed up or down according to circumstances where a change is fair and agreed and if by agreement you had a variation clause included. If a change cannot be agreed then an application to the court for a variation of the amount – whether it was under a court order or voluntary agreement – can be made. When re-applying to court bear in mind that the court will be looking at the change in circumstances and not looking at the case again as a new case.

I have An Order For Child Maintenance – What Next?

When the court makes a child maintenance order it can direct that the payment shall be made through the District Court Clerk rather than directly to the other parent. Once payment is received in the court office it is sent to the receiving parent. This procedure is useful in avoiding disputes as to what has been paid and it means that the District Court Clerk can assist in pursuing any non-payment. If the parent does not pay as ordered an Attachment of Earnings Order can be sought from the court and if granted the money is then deducted at source by the parent’s employer or the Department of Social and Family Affairs. An Attachment of Earnings Order can be made by the court from the start if the court believes that payment will not be made. If the parent is self-employed, an Enforcement Summons must be applied for and the parent who is refusing to pay may be arrested and sent to prison or have their goods taken and sold to pay the debt. Arrears of up to 6 months can be collected this way.

Ken Heffernan, Family Law and Divorce Solicitor, is experienced in dealing with these issues and can apply the legal requirements set out above to your particular case to advise you appropriately for your circumstances whether you are in Cork or elsewhere in Ireland.