How can I protect against an increase in maintenance to my ex-wife?
My ex-wife and I have an informal custody arrangement where i take my 10-year-old son to football one night a week and he also stays with me and my new wife for three weekends a month. My 17-year-old does not stay but comes to dinner once a week.
Lately, my ex has cancelled arrangements for me to have our younger son to stay. She has also been threatening to contact the Child Maintenance Service about changing the existing family court-ordered maintenance agreement. Our fear is that she is keeping our younger son away because she wants to reduce the number of nights he is with us and therefore be able to demand more maintenance. What can we do to protect ourselves from an increase in our maintenance payments?
Katherine Lauder, a partner in the family team at Royds Withy King, says it is positive that you have been able to agree the arrangements for you to spend time with your children on a regular basis. As your youngest gets older, it is inevitable that he will want to spend some weekends undertaking activities. While it’s disappointing when these activities encroach upon your time, you’ll need to adopt a child-focused and flexible approach as co-parents.
If you feel your former partner has prevented you from spending time with your son for frivolous reasons, and you’re concerned she may have a financial motivation, then you may need to formalise the arrangements. This would ensure that you continue to enjoy quality time together and would also protect your financial position.
The provision for child maintenance detailed in the financial order made in the context of your divorce is binding upon you both for 12 months after that order has been made. Thereafter, having given proper notice, either parent can apply to the CMS for an assessment to bring the child maintenance figure in line with the statutory criteria. The CMS calculates child maintenance using a set formula based on the paying parent’s income and the number of nights a year spent with that parent.
You could consider inviting your ex to attend family mediation with you with the aim of establishing a child-centred way forward. Alternatively, you could instruct a solicitor to write to her in an attempt to agree the arrangements formally. Ultimately, if it isn’t possible to reach an agreement, you could apply to the Family Court for a child arrangements order, which would set out the arrangements for your younger son. The court will carefully consider the terms of the order that should be made. It won’t necessarily resemble the current pattern, but it will be legally binding and enforceable.