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The 2012 Child Maintenance Scheme - how to apply for a variation

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

If you use the 2012 Child Maintenance Scheme to work out your maintenance payments and your circumstances change for certain reasons you may be able to ask for a variation. If the reasons why you’re asking for the variation are accepted, the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) will re-calculate your maintenance payments to reflect the changes.

Either of you can ask for a variation at any time if you have grounds for doing so. This can be before the calculation is worked out or if something changes later on.

This page tells you more about how to apply for a variation.

In Northern Ireland, you can arrange maintenance through the Northern Ireland Child Maintenance Service.

If you want more information about the different ways you can arrange child maintenance, go to Child Maintenance Choices at www.nidirect.gov.uk.

Therefore, when the page refers to the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), in Northern Ireland this means the Northern Ireland Child Maintenance Service. When the page refers to Child Maintenance Options, in Northern Ireland this means Child Maintenance Choices.

How to apply for a variation

Either of you can apply to the CMS for a variation if you think there are reasons to do so. These are called grounds for a variation. There are no time limits for doing this. However, there are only certain reasons why you can apply for a variation. For other changes of circumstances, you may have to ask for a review or appeal the calculation.

You can apply by telephone. In certain circumstances, the CMS may ask you to make the application in writing. Whichever method you use to apply, keep a written record of the application, such as notes of when you called and who you spoke to.

When the CMS may ask for extra information

The CMS may ask for extra information or evidence so they can decide whether to agree to the variation. Usually, if you're the parent who should be getting maintenance, you won’t need to provide financial evidence to support your application for a variation. This is because the CMS may be able to get financial details about the parent who should be paying maintenance from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

However, if you’re asking for a variation because you think the other parent has got rid of money to avoid paying the right amount of maintenance, the CMS has to rely on information you can provide. This is called diversion of income.

The CMS will usually send details of the application, including any evidence you supply, to the parent who should pay maintenance.

How the CMS makes a decision

The CMS will look at every application for a variation. This is called a preliminary consideration. At this point the application may be rejected, for example, because there are no grounds for a variation. If this happens, the original maintenance calculation will still apply.

If the application does not fail after the preliminary consideration, the CMS will decide whether to agree to a variation and make a new maintenance calculation decision.

If you're not happy with the decision the CMS makes, you can ask them to look at it again. This is called asking for a review or a reconsideration.

In England, Wales and Scotland, for decisions made on or after 28 October 2013, you will only be able to appeal against a decision when the CMS have reconsidered it first. This is know as mandatory reconsideration.

Paying maintenance while you’re waiting for a decision

if you’re the parent paying maintenance, you have to carry on paying the old rate of maintenance while the CMS is considering the application for variation. This is the case whether it’s you or the other parent who has applied for a variation.

If you’re having difficulties paying the full amount you’ve been ordered to pay, contact the local CMS office dealing with your case. The telephone number should be on any letters they’ve already sent you.

When does a variation take effect?

It depends when the reasons why you’re asking for a variation happened. Some changes to calculations will be backdated to the date when they happened, while others will start from the date when you tell the CMS.

If there are grounds for asking for a variation when the maintenance application is made

If there are already grounds for asking for a variation on the date when the parent paying maintenance is told of the application for maintenance the CMS can change the calculation back to that date. This called the effective date.

However, the CMS can only do this if the parent applying for a variation tells them:

  • within 30 days of being told of the amount of the maintenance calculation, or
  • before the maintenance calculation is made.

If they apply later than this, the variation can only start from the date they tell the CMS that they want to apply for a variation.

If there are grounds for a variation after the first maintenance payment is due

If the reasons why you want to apply for the variation happen after maintenance is first due, the variation can only take effect from the date the application is made. For example, if you have increased expenses because you have extra costs to keep in touch with children who have moved house, you can apply for a variation at this point. The variation will start from the date you first contact the CMS regardless of when the change actually happened.

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