The underlying question for nearly everyone who is separating is ‘will I have enough to live on?’ Some people will have been managing the family budget and others will have had nothing to do with it. Some people are comfortable and confident thinking and talking about money, others are less so. There is undoubtedly a lot to think about both at the time of separation and as you plan your future lives apart.
Let’s look at the starting points… The law and the courts take the view that where there is a legal relationship (marriage or civil partnership) then the starting point for financial discussions is fairness and equal division. This is often not the end point, as there are a range of things to be taken into consideration such as:
- ongoing needs of any children
- each person’s earning and mortgage capacity
- ability to accumulate a pension, and
- where there are enough resources, any significant contributions of each partner in the relationship.
The starting point is that the needs of the children now are met and then, on the basis that children do better when their parents are happy, that the needs of the parents are met. Sometimes there are not enough resources to arrange things fairly at the time of separation, and parents will make agreements to meet the children’s needs now … and their own at some time in the future when the children are more independent.
Separating after living together
There are differences when people have been living together without being married or in a civil partnership. Many in this situation think they acquire ‘common law’ rights as if they were. This is not the case and people who are living together have hardly any rights at all. Where parents are separating after living together and the children are still dependent there are more options, but these generally only apply until the children reach independence. To find out more about separating after living together you can visit the Advicenow website. The Money Advice Service also gives a useful overview of the key financial considerations when considering divorce, to help people feel more in control of their situation.
When parents separate they both remain responsible for the care and financial support of their children. Most parents think it is important for the children’s lives to be affected as little as possible by the separation and for them to have a similar standard of living when they are spending time with each parent. The law takes this view too.
Sometimes this means that one parent gives the other a regular amount of money, known as child support, to contribute towards for example, maintaining a home with heat and light, providing food, school uniform and other clothes, paying for school materials and out of school activities and generally ensuring that their health and welfare needs are met.
Because every family has different needs the government thinks it is important that parents negotiate their own arrangements for child support, and provide support to help do this.
You can find out more about family based arrangements and making arrangements yourself on the gov.uk website using this link. It has resources to help you, including a child maintenance calculator to help you think about calculating how much to pay and, if you absolutely can’t agree between yourselves, find out more about statutory arrangements.
The statutory Child Maintenance Service (CMS) applies charges to both the giving parent and the receiving parent for this service. For up to date charging information use the links above.
You can make arrangements for child maintenance payments as part of your mediation session. Experience shows that agreements reached in mediation are more likely to work, as the decisions have been reached by agreement.
By using mediation to settle child maintenance you can avoid the costs and losses of using the statutory service and your agreement should be accepted as a voluntary arrangement.
Child Benefit is a payment you can claim for a child you are responsible for. Only one payment is allowed per child. Different rates are payable for the first child and subsequent children. The payment can be claimed by anyone who qualifies, whatever their income or savings.
When parents separate, if one is going to have more responsibility for care of the children they will usually keep the Child Benefit. In some cases, children will live with different parents and then you can each claim for the child you are responsible for.
Sometimes parents share care, and in those situations you can decide between you who will be the nominated parent for Child Benefit. This will generally tend to be the parent on the lower income. You will need to let the Benefit Office know that your circumstances have changed. Use this link to the gov.uk website for more about Child Benefit.
Find out more about child benefit and whether you qualify.
Legal Aid is provided by the government to cover the cost of family mediation services for families in dispute.
It is means-tested. So you have to provide evidence of your current financial circumstances to prove you’re entitled to receive it.
If you are eligible, Legal Aid will cover all your individual mediation costs. It will also cover costs of the initial appointment and first mediation meeting for the other person, if they’re not eligible in their own right.
Eligibility for Legal Aid also enables you to get legal aid for legal costs, up to a cost limit.
To see if you can get legal aid for family mediation, follow these steps.
The mediator will complete a form called a CIVMEANS7 at your initial MIAM meeting. You then sign and date it. That’s because this helps us calculate your income and outgoings. You need to bring documents confirming your income to your meeting and attach them to the form.
As a guide, you may be eligible if:
- Receive Income Support, Universal Credit, income based JSA, incomebased ESA, Pension Guarantee Credit
- Live on your own and your household income is less than £17,000 p.a.
- Have a household income less than £21,000 p.a. and you live with a partner and/or dependent children
We usually require pre-payment for all our meetings. For more about fees use this link.
Once your Legal Aid assessment is complete, and you are confirmed as eligible we will refund your fee.
In most cases this is the full amount you paid prior to your assessment.
We make no up-front charges if you receive one of the income-based benefits set out below. Simply send the income evidence required for your assessment to FREEPOST, NATIONAL FAMILY MEDIATION or email a copy to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you currently have a partner and you live together, we will need information about their income too.
Some family mediation cases are eligible for funding from Legal Aid.
Here are some examples of cases the Legal Aid Agency would consider eligible:
- You’re getting divorced and therefore need to sort out financial arrangements.
- Child arrangements have broken down, and so you are not seeing your children.
- Any dispute following family breakdown that may end up in court.
At your initial family mediation appointment (the MIAM) you can ask about legal aid for mediation.
They mediator will discuss what issues need resolving. Some family mediation cases are eligible for Legal Aid. But others are not. Examples of cases the Legal Aid Agency would consider eligible are:
- You are getting divorced and need to sort out money.
- Child arrangements have broken down and you are not seeing your children.
- Any dispute following family breakdown that may end up in court.
We will need your benefit letter confirming you receive:
- Income Support
- Income Based JSA
- Income Based ESA
- Universal Credit
- Guarantee Credit
These must be dated within the last six months.
If you are employed…
- Your most recent payslip(s) – bring payslips covering a whole month if you are paid weekly
- Bank statement(s) –each account money you live on is paid into (salary, benefits, business or other income)
- Your most recent letter confirming the amount of Tax Credits you receive.
If you are self-employed or own a business…
- Bank statement(s) – each account money you live on is paid into (salary, benefits, business or other income)
- Your most recent letter confirming the amount of Tax Credits you receive
- Invoice/cash book or working accounts
- Latest self-assessment tax return or latest audited accounts.
If you receive an income based benefit…
Benefit notification or most recent letter notifying a change in benefit amount. The letter must be less than six months old and state which benefit you receive.
If your letter is more than six months old then please also send your most recent bank statement, which will show that your benefit is still in payment
Ask the DWP or Jobcentre Plus to provide you with a letter confirming you are still in receipt of your benefit.
Additional evidence about your living arrangements
We will also need information about your rent/mortgage payments, payments you are making for child care and any savings or investments you have.
If you own your home you will need to have a rough idea of its current value and the amount of equity/mortgage you have.
If you receive child support or spousal maintenance this also counts as income, even if the payment is by way of direct payments for bills, rent or mortgage.
We also need to take account of any financial help given by friends and relatives.
We will keep a copy of any documents provided and return the originals to you.
What will the family mediator do?
The mediator will do the calculation based on your income in the month up to the date of your assessment meeting.
This means we will need paperwork covering that period – if you are unable to provide this we may not be able to complete the assessment.
Audit of files
Our files are kept for six years and the Legal Aid Agency may ask to audit legally aided cases at any point during that time to ensure that our paperwork and office processes are in order.
NFM is the leading non-profit provider of family mediation but we receive no government funding for our mediation work. Our fees reflect the time and expertise of our experienced professional mediators. Official figures have shown that making settlements using family mediation is up to five times less expensive than doing so by going through the family court.