How to prepare for a child maintenance tribunal
When you’re getting ready for a child maintenance tribunal, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and stressed. You may be wondering what the tribunal will be like, how formal it will be, and what you have to do to prepare for it.
You’re not alone – everyone feels stressed about having to attend a tribunal. Whilst you cannot completely control the outcome of any child maintenance tribunal, there are a few things you can do to make the process easier.
If you’re feeling anxious about an upcoming tribunal date, then I can totally relate. I’ve experienced it myself.
The first thing to remember is that you’re not the one being scrutinised at the tribunal; your ex is. If you’re stressed, then you can be sure that your ex is even more stressed as the one who has to defend their payment position.
Parents who refuse to pay child maintenance or want to pay very little, unsurprisingly, don’t want to be investigated. Evading child maintenance requires a network of lies and a lot of covering-up, and having to defend oneself against investigation. If you think about this then you’ll see that you have the high ground and it can help to make you feel more calm and composed.
This is important because in all situations, if you can’t think rationally, you might make decisions that could make your situation worse. Think about any courtroom drama you’ve ever watched: legal representatives are able to pinpoint the facts and make compelling arguments because they’re not emotionally involved, so they can be cool and collected and get the job done.
This is definitely not easy to do in real life, but there are a few things that can help you to feel up to the job.
Preparation is really important. It’s helpful to have all your essential points listed as bullet points so you can refer to them quickly.
You can list points such as (if appropriate to your situation):
- Evidence you have uncovered,
- Evidence of your ex’s non-compliance with the tribunal,
- Discrepancies in accountancy
- Any discrepancies in information provided
Keep this, along with printed evidence, in a folder to present to the tribunal.
I like to make several copies to have one for myself and one for the panel to refer to. If it’s a huge file, I number the pages so I can refer to evidence by page number. This makes it easy for the judge and all parties to quickly flip to the relevant page and paragraph.
Consider what your ex is likely to say – what objections will they raise to the child maintenance calculation? By thinking specifically about what they may say, you can have a clear, compelling response ready. You’ll never be able to predict everything, so don’t beat yourself up about that, but by trying to pre-empt objections from the other side, you’ll feel much more settled and calm.
Write letters beforehand
In any tribunal or family court situation (I’ve been through many of those too), I always write letters to the judge including all of the evidence I uncover along with my arguments, because it means I have two opportunities to be heard. Being passive is not the way to go, and writing letters is a cheap and effective way of hammering the point home.
Once you’ve written out a clear, logical case with bullet points, recycle it into letters to your MP and to HMRC (more below).
Request a financial professional on the tribunal
You should have the option to request a financial professional to sit on the tribunal, and it’s vital that you insist on this if you haven’t already.
You may want to take notes during the hearing so you can dispute anything that’s untrue and ask questions. It’s also a good idea to jot down a summary of what was said for future reference.
Stick to what matters
It might seem relevant to add that your ex is the UK’s Chief Love Rat, but in reality, no-one wants to hear about that in a DWP tribunal or in family court. Stick to the financial stuff!
Report your findings to HMRC
Ultimately, the CMS work very differently from the CSA and they follow the calculations handed down from HMRC rather slavishly. This isn’t to discourage you, but to encourage you to come at this from all sides. Under-reporting income is tax evasion and should be reported to HMRC.
Request a referral to the FIU
If you haven’t already, you should definitely insist on having your case referred to the Financial Investigation Unit (FIU) to have them investigate any fraudulent activity (lying to the CMS counts as such).
You need to badger your MP to get involved and have it handed over to the FIU… unfortunately, we need to badger everyone to get anything done, but that’s how it works right now.
All of this seems like a lot of work but these things drag on over a long time and depending on when your tribunal is, you may have the benefit of a bit of prep time.
Claim your expenses back!
Having to pay to get to the tribunal venue and then pay for childcare can be salt in the wound for parents who are already struggling financially. Make sure you keep your receipts to be able to claim for:
- travel expenses to cover the fare if you get there using public transport
- travel expenses of 12p per mile if you drive, plus 2p per mile for up to 2 passengers
- meals – £4.25 if you’re away for more than 5 hours, £9.30 for more than 10 hours, or £13.55 for more than 12 hours
- loss of earnings – £37.06 if you’re away from work for up to 4 hours or £71.80 for 4 hours or more
- childminding/care expenses up to the National Minimum Wage
You’ll need a letter from your employer to claim for loss of earnings. Ask a clerk for the claim form at the hearing or get in contact with the tribunal beforehand to ask about it.
What’s a tribunal like anyway?
If you’re imagining the Old Bailey or lawyers approaching the bench, American-style, you’ll be sorely disappointed (or very relieved). It’s less formal than family court as well, with (at least in my experience) parties seated around a large table, but you should still dress smartly and treat it as a serious occasion.
I was able to have my husband accompany me into the hearing for moral support, even though I represented myself throughout.
Take the long view
I wish you all the best with your tribunal hearing, and I encourage you to do your best to prepare, but still, try not to place too much of the burden on yourself. You are not to blame if your ex wilfully refuses to fulfil their obligations, and the CMS exists to step in in such cases. Unfortunately, we know it doesn’t always work… but remember, the problem isn’t with you.
As long as you are doing your best to ensure a just resolution for your children’s support, you can hold your head up high.