Everything you need to know about child maintenance
Sorting out the finances between single parents
Having kids can be an exciting and amazing experience, but it can also be pretty stressful and confusing. One of the biggest worries for young parents is finding all the money they need to care for their kids. What are you entitled to? Who pays it? How much do you even need? Well one key source of income is child maintenance.
What is maintenance?
Maintenance is paid from one parent to the other parent, when they’re no longer in a relationship or living together. It is paid to the parent who has custody of the child, by the other parent. The parent with custody of the child is the parent who lives with the child, who looks after them on a daily basis.
Do you have to pay it?
In Ireland, both parents are responsible for supporting their children, whether they’re married, separated, living together, or have never lived together. Married couples or parents in a relationship normally can informally sort out their finances between themselves, but for parents who aren’t together, maintenance is often required to make sure both parents are supporting the child. So yes - if the parents aren’t in a relationship, one parent is legally obliged to pay maintenance.
So how does it work?
If you have a good relationship with the other parent of your child, you guys can sort it out informally between yourselves. You can chat about the expenses related to your child, and decide upon a reasonable amount to pay weekly or monthly, to cover the costs. There is no upper or lower limit of how much this is - it’s totally decided between the two of you. Once you have decided on this amount, you can get it enshrined in a court order. That means the agreement will be legally binding, and the other parent will be obliged to pay it.
If you don’t get on so well with the other parent, it can be a bit trickier. If they refuse to pay it, or if you can’t settle on a how much they should pay, you’ll need to apply for a maintenance order from the District Court to ensure they do pay.
What’s a maintenance order? How do I get one?
A maintenance order is a legally binding court order, that means one parent of the child has to pay maintenance to the other. To apply for one, you need to go to the local District Court and get the Court Clerk to issue a maintenance summons against the parent who refuses to pay maintenance. This might be a little confusing at first, so it might be a good idea to call your nearest Free Legal Advice Centre to talk you through the process.
If you bring the other parent to court to get a maintenance order, there can be legal fees related to this. However, the judge may deem the other parent to be liable to pay these. Also, it’s worth getting in touch with Legal Aid, who may be able to provide you with a bit of assistance in this area.
The maximum amount of maintenance that can be granted by a maintenance order from the District Court is €150 per week, per child. If you’re seeking a larger amount, you would have to go to the Circuit Court or the High Court.
For more information on how to apply, and all the forms you need, visit the Courts Services website.
Does maintenance grant access?
Not necessarily. Just because you are paying maintenance to your child, doesn’t mean you’ll automatically get access to them, and vice versa. Gaining access to your child is a separate legal process, and does not affect maintenance.