My Child Maintenance story
For a while now, I’ve been hoping to write about something that’s simultaneously personal and political, important and contentious. It’s the subject of child maintenance, or child support, as it’s more commonly referred to in the US. This is the story of how I overturned a decision that enabled my son’s father to legally avoid paying child maintenance for years.
Saying “Child Maintenance” brings out the trolls.
I’ve spent (for reasons that will become clear) quite some time researching child maintenance in the UK, and what has particularly struck me is the vitriol smeared all over the comments of most articles and blogs I’ve read.
Although it’s necessary to acknowledge that there are women as well as men who are non-resident parents (NRPs) or paying parents (PPs), the majority of NRPs/PPs are fathers. Most comments I have read have been deeply misogynistic rants by disgruntled fathers or their new partners, painting the mothers involved as money-grubbing, bitter and materialistic.
Whilst I will acknowledge that there are both women and men who abuse the system, I won’t tolerate abusive tirades, nor will I abide misogyny in comments on this blog.
Why I’m sharing this
I have no interest in assisting anyone, whether male or female, to cheat their way out of their financial obligations towards their children, or to punish their former spouse/partner financially. My intention is to share the information that’s been most helpful to me in my journey so far, and to keep the story updated, as I’ve read a few helpful, compelling stories online that have been sadly left without an outcome. What happened next, I wondered?
Well, here’s my story.
|First Tier Tribunal decision notice.
First – as of the time of writing I receive no child maintenance for my son, Little Balders, who is 11 years old. His father, whom I shall refer to here as Odd Socks, departed when he was 2. I received nothing until I got the Child Support Agency (CSA) involved; it took about a year and a half before I received about £200. And that was it. Why? Mr Socks said he had a few reasons for not paying – the last was being self-employed and skint. Well, I didn’t believe it. (And no, I didn’t stop him from having contact with our son.) By making these claims, he legally reduced his maintenance liability to nil.
At the time, I was a single mother of a toddler living on income support and savings, trying to build a business, get over a divorce and raise a happy boy. I didn’t want to be involved with my ex’s life. I knew he’d try his hardest to wriggle out of paying anything, and I had enough on my plate. So I left it – for 5 years.
In that time I was never asked how I managed to provide food, shelter and heating; it was a given that I would take good care of my son. I went to uni, worked hard and got a 1st class Bachelor’s degree, found part-time work in a big city and did an MA. However, Mr Odd Socks became Mr Angry Pants when I decided to get married again – after years without complaint he said that I was a bad mother, amongst other things.
Being called a bad mother hurt my feelings, of course, but more importantly, it made me seriously review the years I’d spent raising my son, and how unfairly Odd Socks had treated both of us. Well, I went back to the CSA.
By now, you’ll have figured out that someone who is content to pay nothing in maintenance for years probably thinks it to be their God-given right to do so, and would not give up that ‘right’ for anything. Despite being the managing director of a London-based limited company, he said that he made… £0. Because he put all of his income back into his company.
So, what do you do when you know that the other parent just won’t pay?
Here’s what I did.
1. I became a PI.
I gathered information from Companies House, the Land Registry and scoured the internet. The information has to be relevant to their company/companies, investments, lifestyle and assets. It’s astounding how much people will divulge about their lifestyles and assets on Twitter, Facebook and in interviews when they’re trying to impress the world, even when they have things they’d rather hide.
|The paperwork that can come with mounting a case against the CMS and a non-paying parent can feel like a lead weight.
Unfortunately, the system requires that the resident/receiving parent provide information about the other parent’s income and assets that they really have no recourse to, so leaving it to the parents to provide this information is ridiculous, to put it mildly. If you’re in this position you’ll have to become handy with search engines – see this article on tips to become your own private investigator.
2. I requested a variation.
The ‘variation’ meant that I disagreed with the amount that had been decided on – £0. I wanted to take into account the fact that as a company director, my ex could receive dividends as part of his income, as well as control his own income. I also wanted to take evidence of his lifestyle into account as what was shown to me was out of keeping with an income of £0 per week.
I requested the variation knowing that it would be rejected. It had to be rejected, in order that I could take it over the heads of the CSA to the ones who could actually do something about it. I’m reluctant to go into too much detail, simply because the CSA no longer exists, and the procedure has changed somewhat. Here’s a link to a useful PDF by Guildford Chambers on the changes. After the formality of the variation and its rejection…
3. I appealed to a tribunal.
The next step was to appeal to the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal. I did my homework. I read over all of the forms and repeatedly wrote to the Tribunal about everything I could foresee arising, enclosing evidence, and I requested evidence in the form of bank statements and company accounts from my ex’s solicitors. I wanted to be as prepared as possible, because I represented myself. On the day, I kept notes and asked targeted questions during the hearing.
Was I nervous? Of course! But I wasn’t the one having to defend myself. After spending hundreds or perhaps even more on solicitors and barristers to avoid paying maintenance, I knew that my ex would be even more nervous than I was.
If you are in this situation, you’ll probably be nervous as well, but you can present your case clearly and confidently if you take time to prepare, and remember that you’re not the only one having to go through this.
4. I won.
|CMS arrears letter.
Mr Socks is now thousands of pounds in arrears, but this, of course, is nothing compared to what he should have paid towards his son’s upkeep over the years. To me, it’s more about the injustice than the money. The legal loopholes that determined maintenance avoiders exploit have been around for a long time, and I’ll bet there will be many reading this in order to figure out how to join that club (classy, you lot).
Still, I’m not going to give up just because it’s difficult for me. Until councillors, MPs and others in power stand up for parents and children who are being defrauded, those parents will have to stand up for themselves.
What to do if your ex refuses to pay maintenance
My advice is for those in my situation is to stick with it, but don’t let it be a full-time pursuit; treat it as a hobby. It can become draining otherwise. Don’t become obsessed with your ex. Make sure that your current life is happy and fulfilled, and build yourself up for the work that comes with having to do the paperwork and research required.
I’ll try to add developments as they occur, in the hope that someone who needs the encouragement might stumble across this and take something useful from my journey.
What happened next? Read this post to find out some good news!
I’ve created a printable Child Maintenance planner to help everyone who finds themselves in this situation. We all need a support network, and I want to share what’s helped me, not just my own story. If you’re interested, sign up to my CMS help newsletter below.