If you are not in a relationship with the father of your child, child support and access arrangements can be complex and emotive.
So what is the legal position on these issues?
There are two options for arranging child support: Â A private agreement Â Involving the Child Support Agency (CSA) Coming to a private agreement is normally the preferable option. There are some cases in which the CSA cannot make a decision anyway, for example if the father lives abroad.
You will need to decide the amount of money the father should pay you; the frequency and method of payment; and whether the father should pay for any specific items or services (eg. nursery fees). It's a great idea to have a written, signed agreement for your records and as a sign of your commitment. However, if you want to make this legally binding you will need to apply for a consent order through the courts. This can be a costly process and professional assistance is normally necessary.
If it is necessary to involve the CSA, an assessment will be made of the contribution that the father should make. This is based on a standard calculation known as an administrative formula that takes into account the father's income. One advantage of the CSA process is that they will take responsibility for enforcing payments if necessary. This could be through court action against the father or they may even require his employer to make the child support deductions directly from his salary.
Child Access and Custody
Arrangements regarding child access and custody can be made through agreement between you and the father or via the courts. Parents are encouraged to use the courts as a last resort in these circumstances and there are many family mediation services which can help you negotiate and come to an agreement. If the child will be living with you, you may make arrangements regarding the father's contact with the child. It is important to consider all kinds of contact (phone, email and physical contact); arrangements for special occasions; and who will be responsible for travel expenses and phone bills. Alternatively you might come to a shared custody agreement where the children spend some time living with the father and he can help make major decisions regarding schooling, healthcare and so on.
If you cannot reach an agreement, court action may be triggered if the father applies for a contact or residence order through the court. In this situation, under the Children's Act 1989 the deciding factor will be the best interests of the child. Courts normally consider it beneficial for children to have contact with both parents unless there are exceptional circumstances such as abuse.
Most separated parents can reach an amicable settlement about child support and custody. Family solicitors and mediators can help you and the father makes arrangements that are fair, workable, and best for the welfare of your child.
By Dominic Higgins March 2013 Dominic graduated in 2005 with a degree in Law from The University College London. Dominic has formerly worked as a legal adviser in the United Kingdom and South Africa and now works for Contact Law, a service which helps match clients with solicitors. If you would like to learn more about child support and child access laws, visit Contact Law at http://www.contactlaw.co.uk/family/ to find out how our family law solicitors can help you today.