Sheila Byth: Non-resident parents face big changes in child support

AT CURRENT rates of interest any saver with a no-risk cash investment will be lucky to retain a return of 4 per cent per annum – and for that are probably locked into a three- or four-year bond.

But parents living apart from their children are judged to be obtaining a return of 8 per cent from savings or other capital-producing investments worth more than 65,000, according to the Child Support Agency's estimate of the "wealth" of non-resident parents for the purposes of calculating maintenance payments.

The above assets do not include the house in which the separated person lives, but should the CSA (via the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission) deem that he (and it usually is a "he") has failed, and is continuing to fail, to pay child support maintenance, the CMEC can prevent any planned sale or transfer of the property going through.

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Now life for non-resident parents is, potentially, about to get worse. In recent years, the level of a non-resident parent's income being payable for maintenance was calculated on the following basis: 15 per cent for one child, 20 for two children and 25 for three or more children. Now, under a phased introduction, the proportions will change to 12, 16 and 19 per cent for someone earning less than 800 a week and 9, 12 and 16 per cent if the salary or wage is above that. These will be calculated on gross and not net income so, every wage- or salary-earning non-resident parent will have to pay more.

If a non-resident parent earns less than 800 a week but has built up a substantial pension pot (or owned a heritable asset such as property) then the latter may also be taken into account when assessing liability for maintenance payment.

Just as many people juggle capital and income for tax purposes, it is surely right that non-resident parents take the same approach towards child maintenance liabilities. Few non-resident parents wish to deny their children the necessities and comforts of life but they have a right not to be subject to excessive compulsory payments.

• Sheila Byth is an assistant solicitor with McKay Norwell WS in Edinburgh.

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