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Maintenance claims - Northern Ireland

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1. What do the concepts “maintenance” and “maintenance obligation” cover according to the law of Northern Ireland?

In the United Kingdom, since April 1993, jurisdiction to decide maintenance for children has largely transferred from the courts to a Government agency (the Child Support Agency) which determines maintenance through an administrative rather than a judicial process. The legislation covering child support maintenance in Northern Ireland is the Child Support (Northern Ireland) Order 1991, as amended by the Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act (Northern Ireland) 2000.

Child support maintenance is paid by parents who live apart from their children. Such parents are referred to as non-resident parents. It is paid for the benefit of the child to the parent or person who has care of them. The Child Support Agency can make a maintenance calculation which sets the weekly amount payable. The Agency will also collect child support maintenance and pass it on to a parent or person who has care of a child, and will take enforcement action where appropriate.

A parent who has care of a child may apply for child support maintenance from the non-resident parent. Where a child lives with a person who is not their parent (for example, a grandparent) that person may apply for maintenance from the non-resident parent(s). A non-resident parent can also apply to pay maintenance.

A parent with care of a child who claims certain income related social security benefits (Income Support and income-based Jobseeker's Allowance) is automatically treated as having applied for maintenance unless they opt out. If they do opt out their benefit may be reduced.

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. What do the concepts “maintenance” and “maintenance obligation” cover according to the law of Northern Ireland? 1.
2. Up to what age can a child benefit from a maintenance allowance? 2.
3. In which cases is the law of Northern Ireland applicable? 3.
4. If this law is not applicable, which law will the courts of Northern Ireland apply?
f both the person who asks for maintenance and the debtor are in Northern Ireland: 4.
If both the person who asks for maintenance and the debtor are in Northern Ireland: If both the person who asks for maintenance and the debtor are in Northern Ireland:
5. Should the applicant apply to a specific organisation, a government department (central or local) or a court to obtain maintenance? 5.
5.a) How do I apply for maintenance from this organisation or government department (central or local), and what procedures apply? 5.a)
6. Can a request be made on behalf of a relative, a close relation, or a child under age? 6.
7. If the applicant plans to bring the case to court, how does he/she knows which court has jurisdiction? 7.
8. Does the applicant have to go through an intermediary to bring the case to court (e.g. a lawyer, specific organisation or government department (central or local) etc.)? If not, which procedures? 8.
9. Does the applicant have to pay fees to bring a case to court? If so, how much are they likely to be? If the financial means of the plaintiff are insufficient, can he/she obtain legal aid to cover the costs of the procedure? 9.
10. What kind of maintenance is likely to be granted by the court? If an allowance is granted how will it be assessed? Can the court's decision be revised to take account of the changes in the costs of living or family circumstances? 10.
11. How and to whom will the maintenance be paid? 11.
12. If the maintenance debtor doesn't pay voluntarily, what action can be taken in order to force him/her to pay? 12.
13. Is there an organisation or government department (central or local) which can help me to recover maintenance? 13.
14. Can they replace the debtor and pay the maintenance themselves or part of the maintenance in his or her place?
If the petitioner is in Northern Ireland and the maintenance debtor has his/her residence in another country: 14.
If the petitioner is in Northern Ireland and the maintenance debtor has his/her residence in another country: If the petitioner is in Northern Ireland and the maintenance debtor has his/her residence in another country:
15. Can the petitioner obtain the assistance of an organisation or government department (central or local) in Northern Ireland? 15.
16. If so, how can that organisation or government department (central or local) be contacted? 16.
17. What kind of assistance can the petitioner receive from this organisation or government department (central or local)?
If the petitioner is in another country and the maintenance debtor is in Northern Ireland: 17.
If the petitioner is in another country and the maintenance debtor is in Northern Ireland: If the petitioner is in another country and the maintenance debtor is in Northern Ireland:
18. Can the petitioner address directly a request to an organisation or government department (central or local) in Northern Ireland? 18.
19. If so, how can that organisation or government department (central or local) be contacted? 19.
20. What kind of assistance can the petitioner receive from this organisation or government department (central or local)? 20.
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Where the parent with care of a child is not on benefit, the Child Support Agency may not be able to accept an application if there are existing maintenance arrangements in place. These include certain court orders for periodical maintenance made before 3 March 2003, court orders made on or after that date that are under a year old, or written maintenance agreements made before 5 April 1993.

Moreover, under the Domestic Proceedings (Northern Ireland) Order 1980, a party to a marriage may apply to the court for an order for financial provision if the spouse has:

  • failed to provide reasonable maintenance for the applicant;
  • failed to provide reasonable maintenance for an child of the family;
  • committed adultery;
  • behaved in such a way that the applicant cannot reasonably be expected to live with the other party; or,
  • has deserted the applicant

Under the Matrimonial Causes (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, a spouse can apply for financial provision during proceedings for divorce or judicial separation. The Court can order periodical payments to be made, either to the petitioner or for the benefit of a child. Alternatively, the Court may order that a lump sum is paid. Maintenance pending suit is also available as an option in some cases.

2. Up to what age can a child benefit from a maintenance allowance?

A child can benefit from child support maintenance if he or she is under 16, or is under 19 and attends a course of full-time education which is not advanced education (still at school or an equivalent educational establishment).

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Under the 1980 Order, the court will not make a financial provision order in favour of a child who has attained the age of 18. However, in some circumstances, provision can be made if there are “special circumstances” or if the child is receiving instructions at an educational establishment or undergoing training for a trade, profession or vocation, whether or not he is also or will also be in gainful employment.
Under the Matrimonial Causes (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, maintenance is available for a child until he or she attains the age of 16 (or 18 if the child remains in full time education). The Court can extend the payment of maintenance if education is continued beyond the age of 18 or if certain special circumstances exist which require maintenance to be ongoing.

3. In which cases is the law of Northern Ireland applicable?

The Child Support (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 applies to all families where parents live apart. The Child Support Agency has jurisdiction to make a maintenance calculation where the parent with care of a child, the non-resident parent and the child are all habitually resident in the United Kingdom. They also have jurisdiction if the non-resident parent is not habitually resident in the United Kingdom, but works for an employer whose payroll is based in the United Kingdom.

The Child Support Agency may not be able to accept an application if there are existing maintenance arrangements in place. These include certain court orders for periodical maintenance made before 3 March 2003, court orders made on or after that date that are under a year old, or written maintenance agreements made before 5 April 1993.

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However, existing maintenance arrangements do not prevent a parent with care who is on social security benefits from receiving child support maintenance (see question 1). Where a maintenance calculation is made in these cases any existing arrangements are cancelled.

As a general rule, if the Northern Ireland courts decide that they have jurisdiction, then they will apply the law of Northern Ireland.

4. If this law is not applicable, which law will the courts of Northern Ireland apply?
f both the person who asks for maintenance and the debtor are in Northern Ireland:

If it is thought that a question is governed by a relevant foreign law, which is different from Northern Ireland law, then that law must be averred and proved. There may be unusual circumstances where foreign law is pleaded by parties in a case in relation to a particular incidental question. In these circumstances the Northern Ireland court may take this into consideration.

If both the person who asks for maintenance and the debtor are in Northern Ireland:

5. Should the applicant apply to a specific organisation, a government department (central or local) or a court to obtain maintenance?

As stated in the answer to Question 1, there are currently a number of systems. For child support maintenance the applicant should approach the Child Support Agency. If the case falls under the 1980 Order, then the applicant can raise proceedings in the local Magistrates' Court.

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Proceedings for divorce or judicial separation can be brought in the High Court or County Court.

5.a) How do I apply for maintenance from this organisation or government department (central or local), and what procedures apply?

To apply for child support maintenance you can telephone the Child Support National Helpline on 08457 133 133 (for callers within the UK) or + 44 151 227 2274 (for callers from outside UK). The lines are open from 0800 to 2000 Monday to Friday and from 0830 to 1700 on Saturday. An application for child support maintenance can be made over the phone or you can ask for an application form. You will need to provide information about the children for whom maintenance is needed, existing maintenance arrangements and details of any arrangements for sharing care of the child. The other parent will then be contacted to gather the information needed to make the maintenance calculation.

A person seeking to obtain maintenance as a result of an application under the Domestic Proceedings (Northern Ireland) Order 1980 or the Matrimonial Causes (Northern Ireland) Order 1978 should consult a solicitor regarding that application. Details of solicitors who specialise in family law can be obtained from the Law Society of Northern Ireland, Law Society House, 98 Victoria Street, Belfast.

6. Can a request be made on behalf of a relative, a close relation, or a child under age?

For child support maintenance, anyone such as a friend, relative or a solicitor can make an application on behalf of a parent or person with care of a child. The parent or person with care will need to authorise them to do so, unless they already have authority such as a power of attorney etc. In Northern Ireland an application cannot be made on behalf of a child as children cannot apply for child support maintenance in their own right.

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7. If the applicant plans to bring the case to court, how does he/she knows which court has jurisdiction?

The court where either party is domiciled would be appropriate. For Northern Ireland, see Northern Ireland Courtservice. The court locations page in the “About Us” section lists the various courts in Northern Ireland.

8. Does the applicant have to go through an intermediary to bring the case to court (e.g. a lawyer, specific organisation or government department (central or local) etc.)? If not, which procedures?

If the applicant wishes to bring the case to court then it is advisable to secure the services of a solicitor experienced in family law.

9. Does the applicant have to pay fees to bring a case to court? If so, how much are they likely to be? If the financial means of the plaintiff are insufficient, can he/she obtain legal aid to cover the costs of the procedure?

The making of a child support maintenance calculation, collection of maintenance, passing maintenance onto the parent or person with care of a child, and enforcement of the maintenance liability are provided free of charge by the Child Support Agency.

The applicant if using a solicitor would have to pay for their services. Costs will, of course, vary. The claimant could apply for advice and assistance or legal aid giving particulars of their resources, i.e. claimant's disposable income and disposable capital. The typical costs and expenses, involved in an application for child support or maintenance are:

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  • Standard legal fees.
  • Any irrecoverable court costs.
  • Enforcement expenses.

10. What kind of maintenance is likely to be granted by the court? If an allowance is granted how will it be assessed? Can the court's decision be revised to take account of the changes in the costs of living or family circumstances?

If the non-resident parent's net weekly income is £200 or more, child support maintenance is calculated as a percentage of the non-resident parent's net income. The percentages are 15% for one child, 20 % for two and 25% for three or more. If the non-resident parent's net weekly income is more than £100 but less than £200, a reduced rate applies. If the non-resident parent's net weekly income is £100 or less, or they are on social security benefits, a flat rate of £5 applies.

The amount of net weekly income used to calculate the amount of maintenance payable is reduced if the non-resident parent has children living with them in their current family.

The maintenance calculation can also be reduced if the non-resident parent has overnight care of the child for at least one night a week.

No account is taken of the parent with care's income.

Under the 1980 Order, the court may order the respondent to pay periodical payments for a specified term or a lump sum by one party to a marriage to the other or to a child of the family or to the other party for the benefit of the child.

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The court also has the power to vary or revoke an order for periodical payments and make a lump sum order. It can also suspend any provision of a periodical payment order and, equally, revive any provision that it has suspended.

Under the Matrimonial Causes (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, the Court can order that periodical payments be made or alternatively a lump sum payment can be ordered. The Court will take into account a number of factors which are set down in the legislation, including income and earning capacity, financial needs and contributions made to the welfare of the family. The Court can vary, discharge or suspend maintenance payments or revive the operation of any provision which it has suspended.

11. How and to whom will the maintenance be paid?

The Child Support Agency provides a calculation service and a collection service. It normally collects child support maintenance if the person with care is on Income Support or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, or if either parent asks it to. If non-resident parents get behind with payments, the Child Support Agency will try to make sure that they pay all the child maintenance they owe. Child support maintenance is a regular income to help with the costs of bringing up children.

If the family gets Income Support (including Minimum Income Guarantee) or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, they can be up to £10 a week better off because of the child maintenance paid.

Under the 1980 Order, the court can order that payments be made directly by the debtor to the creditor or to a collecting officer (normally the clerk of petty sessions).

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12. If the maintenance debtor doesn't pay voluntarily, what action can be taken in order to force him/her to pay?

Most non-resident parents want to support their children. But, if a non-resident parent does not pay their child support liability, the Child Support Agency will take the necessary action to make sure that they pay all the child maintenance due. The Child Support Agency has a range of powers it can use. These include taking money direct from earnings (deduction from earnings order) and taking court action (enforcement action). Ultimately the court may be asked to take away a non-resident parent's driving licence or even send him/her to prison.

If the non-resident parent doesn't make payments at the right time the Child Support Agency may charge a penalty of up to 25 per cent of the weekly maintenance. This may be charged for each week that the non-resident parent fails to pay or pay late. This money is not paid as maintenance to the parent / person with care, it is retained by the state as reimbursement of the additional administrative costs to the Agency of enforcing payments.

Under the 1980 Order and the Matrimonial Causes (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, a party can apply to the Court to enforce the payment of any arrears.

13. Is there an organisation or government department (central or local) which can help me to recover maintenance?

See question 11. The Child Support Agency can collect and enforce child maintenance if the parent / person with care is on Income Support or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance or if either parent asks it to.

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The Law Society of Northern Ireland (telephone: +44 28 9023 1614) can provide individuals with the names of solicitors who can provide advice and assistance in child support/maintenance cases.

14. Can they replace the debtor and pay the maintenance themselves or part of the maintenance in his or her place?
If the petitioner is in Northern Ireland and the maintenance debtor has his/her residence in another country:

For child support, the Child Support Agency can only pass on money it receives, where appropriate. The Agency is not able to pay the maintenance, or part of it, themselves or in place of the non-resident parent.
If the parent or person with care of a child receives Income Support (including Minimum Income Guarantee) or income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, they will receive a provision of child support maintenance with their benefit payment. In these instances the parent or person with care will be paid up to £10 of any maintenance payment received from the non-resident parent. The rest will be retained by the state.

If the petitioner is in Northern Ireland and the maintenance debtor has his/her residence in another country:

15. Can the petitioner obtain the assistance of an organisation or government department (central or local) in Northern Ireland?

For child support maintenance it is only possible for the Child Support Agency to make a maintenance calculation where the non-resident parent is in another part of the United Kingdom (that is, England, Wales or Scotland), or is working outside the United Kingdom for an employer whose payroll is based in the United Kingdom.

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In all other cases the petitioner can contact the Northern Ireland Court Service, which acts as the Central Authority under various reciprocal international arrangements concerning maintenance.

16. If so, how can that organisation or government department (central or local) be contacted?

The petitioner can telephone the Child Support National Helpline on 08457 133 133 (for callers within the UK) or + 44 151 227 2274 (for callers from outside UK). The lines are open from 0800 to 2000 Monday to Friday and from 0830 to 1700 on Saturday.

The Central Authority can be contacted by writing to:

Northern Ireland Court Service,
Windsor House,
Bedford Street,
Belfast BT12 7LT
Telephone: + 44 28 9032 8594
Fax: + 44 28 9041 2390 or
by e-mail to informationcentre@courtsni.gov.uk

17. What kind of assistance can the petitioner receive from this organisation or government department (central or local)?
If the petitioner is in another country and the maintenance debtor is in Northern Ireland:

If the parent with care and the child are resident in the United Kingdom but the non-resident parent is not, the Child Support Agency has jurisdiction to make a maintenance calculation if the non-resident parent works for an employer whose payroll is based in the United Kingdom.

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The petitioner can receive general guidance but not legal advice from the Central Authority. The Central Authority can provide individuals with information booklets and generally advise on the workings of maintenance agreements and arrangements with particular countries. On receipt of an application, the Central Authority will arrange for it to be translated and sent abroad for action. The Central Authority will continue to monitor the application with the Central Authority abroad.

If the petitioner is in another country and the maintenance debtor is in Northern Ireland:

18. Can the petitioner address directly a request to an organisation or government department (central or local) in Northern Ireland?

In these circumstances the Child Support Agency would only have jurisdiction to make a maintenance calculation if the petitioner and the child are resident elsewhere in the United Kingdom (that is, England, Wales or Scotland). If the petitioner is outside the United Kingdom the Child Support Agency does not have jurisdiction to make a Maintenance Calculation.

An applicant in another country should generally first contact their country's designated central authority to determine whether or not a reciprocal arrangement currently exists. If there is no arrangement in place, then the only alternative would be for the applicant to raise an action in Northern Ireland. In these circumstances the applicant should contact the Law Society of Northern Ireland (telephone: +44 28 9023 1614) who can provide individuals with the names of solicitors who can provide advice and assistance in child support/maintenance cases.

19. If so, how can that organisation or government department (central or local) be contacted?

The person can telephone the Child Support National Helpline on 08457 133 133 (for callers within the UK) or + 44 151 227 2274 (for callers from outside UK). The lines are open from 0800 to 2000 Monday to Friday and from 0830 to 1700 on Saturday.

20. What kind of assistance can the petitioner receive from this organisation or government department (central or local)?

The Child Support Agency may be able to make a maintenance calculation. See earlier answers for circumstances where an application cannot be accepted by the Child Support Agency.

If there is a reciprocal arrangement in place then, once an application has been sent to Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Central Authority acts as a point of contact for the applicant, solicitors and foreign authorities. The Central Authority for Northern Ireland will also arrange for a court order to be registered and for a solicitor to be appointed on behalf of the applicant subject to legal aid requirements.

Further information

« Maintenance claims - General information | United Kingdom - General information »

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Last update: 04-04-2006

 
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