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Maintenance claims - Northern Ireland

TABLE OF CONTENTS

European Judicial Network in civil and commercial matters

1 What do the concepts “maintenance” and “maintenance obligation” mean in practical terms? Which persons have to pay a maintenance allowance to another person?

Maintenance can be paid by a parent for their children or any child of the family to any person who is taking care of the child. Maintenance can also be paid to either party to a marriage by the other party of the marriage.

In Northern Ireland there are presently two systems for the determination of support:

An ex-civil partner may also have to pay maintenance to the other ex civil partner.

In respect of child support maintenance this 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 Maintenance Service can make a maintenance calculation which sets the weekly amount payable. They 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 is automatically treated as having applied for maintenance unless they opt out. If they do opt out their benefit may be reduced. Where the parent with care of a child is not on benefit, the Child Maintenance Service 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.

2 Up to what age can a child benefit from a maintenance allowance? Are there different rules for maintenance concerning minors and adults?

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).

Under the Domestic Proceedings (Northern Ireland) Order 1980, 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 Should I apply to a competent authority or a court to obtain maintenance? What are the main elements of this procedure?

You can apply through the Northern Ireland Competent Authority to the court to obtain maintenance if you or your children:

  • have an order for maintenance against a person who lives in Northern Ireland or another country or territory that has a reciprocal arrangement with the United Kingdom for maintenance obligations; or wish to commence court proceedings for maintenance in another country or territory that has a reciprocal maintenance arrangement with the United Kingdom.

If you are making your application for enforcement of an existing maintenance order under Regulation (EU) No. 4/2009 you can also make your application directly to the magistrates's court in Northern Ireland.

The main elements of the procedure provide, where applicable, a process to:

  • register an order in Northern Ireland and enforce it,
  • register a Northern Ireland Order elsewhere and enforce it,
  • commence proceedings in Northern Ireland (including applying for a provisional order)
  • commence proceedings or register an order outside Northern Ireland (including applying for a provisional order)

If you have an existing Child Maintenance Service assessment in Northern Ireland you should first contact Child Maintenance Service to confirm if they can take enforcement proceedings on your behalf in this jurisdiction.

4 Can a request be made on behalf of a relative (if yes, what grade), or a child?

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.

5 If I plan to bring the case to court, how do I know which court has jurisdiction?

The relevant court area for bringingcases is determined by reference to three Administrative Court Divisions in Northern Ireland. Cases can be brought in any Administrative Court Division although generally, they are brought in the Division where either party is domiciled. The Central Authority for Northern Ireland can help establish the appropriate Division.

 

The Administrative Court Guide can be downloaded from the NICTS website at Link opens in new windowhttp://www.courtsni.gov.uk and contact details for local court offices in Northern Ireland are available on the website of the Link opens in new windowNorthern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service

6 As an applicant, do I have to go through an intermediary to bring the case to court (e.g. a lawyer, central or local authority, etc.)? If not, which procedures apply?

Normally an applicant can make the application without using a lawyer.

Court staff can assist with completing the forms required but cannot offer any legal advice therefore it may be advisable for an applicant to secure the services of a lawyer experienced in family law.

7 Do I have to pay fees to bring a case to court? If so, how much are they likely to be? If my financial means are insufficient, can I obtain legal aid to cover the costs of the procedure?

The administrative process in enforcing or obtaining reciprocal maintenance orders is provided free of charge in Northern Ireland.

However an applicant may incur legal costs if either party is using a lawyer and the case goes to court. Costs will, of course, vary and an applicant may apply for legal aid to cover legal advice and assistance, giving particulars of their resources, i.e. claimant's disposable income and disposable capital. The rules on legal aid are governed by the Access to Justice (Link opens in new windowNorthern Ireland) Order 2003

The typical costs and expenses involved could be:

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

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 Maintenance Service.

8 What kind of maintenance is likely to be granted by the court? How is the amount of maintenance calculated? Can the court's decision be revised, if living costs or family circumstances change? If yes, how (e.g. by means of an automatic indexation system)?

For the recovery of maintenance, the court can grant an order for child maintenance, spousal maintenance, or child/spousal maintenance. The court can make an order for periodical payments, a lump sum, settlement payments or secured periodical payments. The court can in appropriate cases decide that maintenance is to be backdated. Account will be taken of all the circumstances of the individual case in deciding whether to backdate and in assessing the amounts. Application can be made to the court at any time to vary an order for maintenance.

9 How and to whom will the maintenance be paid?

Under the Domestic Proceedings (Northern Ireland) Order 1980, 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).

The Child Maintenance Service provides a calculation service and a collection service. It normally collects child support maintenance if the person with care is on certain benefits, or if either parent asks it to. If non-resident parents get behind with payments, the Child Maintenance Service will try to make sure that they pay all the child maintenance they owe.

10 If the person concerned (debtor) doesn't pay voluntarily, what action can be taken in order to force him/her to pay?

Under the Domestic Proceedings (Northern Ireland) Order 1980 and the Matrimonial Causes (Northern Ireland) Order 1978, a party can apply to the court to enforce the payment of any arrears. The court has a range of powers it can use including taking money direct from earnings (attachment of earnings order).

If a non-resident parent does not pay their child support liability, the Child Maintenance Service will take the necessary action to make sure that they pay all the child maintenance due. The Child Maintenance Service has a range of powers it can use including taking money direct from earnings (deduction from earnings order) and taking court action (enforcement action).

11 Please describe briefly any limitations on enforcement, in particular debtor protection rules and limitation or prescription periods in your enforcement system

An application for enforcement of a maintenance order made outside the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland can be made before the expiry of three years from the date of default on the payments due or before the expiry of any longer limitation period provided for under the law of the state of origin.

12 Is there an organisation or an authority which can help me to recover maintenance?

Applications for the recovery of maintenance under Regulation (EC) 4/2009 can be made directly to the magistrates' court in Northern Ireland or can be transmitted to it by the Central Authority of Northern Ireland. All other applications for the recovery of international maintenance should be sent to the Central Authority for Northern Ireland.

13 Can organisations (government or private) advance the payment of maintenance wholly or partly in the debtor's place?

No.

14 If I am in this Member State and the debtor has his/her residence in another country:

14.1 Can I obtain the assistance of an authority or private organisation in this Member State?

The applicant can contact the REMO Unit within Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service, which acts as the Central Authority in Northern Ireland under various reciprocal international arrangements concerning maintenance.

Local court offices can assist a person in completing an application but they cannot give legal advice. The court office will, where appropriate, send the application to the Central Authority for Northern Ireland for checking and onward transmission to the Central Authority in the requested Member State

For child support maintenance it is only possible for the Child Maintenance Service 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.

14.2 If so, how can that authority or private organisation be contacted?

The Central Authority can be contacted by writing to:

Department of Justice for Northern Ireland
REMO Unit at Operational Policy Branch
Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service
4th Floor Laganside House
23-27 Oxford Street
Belfast BT1 3LA
Northern Ireland

Tel: 0300 200 7812 (UK)

+44 28 9049 5884 (International)

Email: Link opens in new windowBusinessDevelopmentGroup@courtsni.gov.uk

Contact details for local court offices in Northern Ireland are available on the website of the Link opens in new windowNorthern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service.

Child Maintenance Choices advice line can be contacted on: 0800 028 7439 (UK) +44 800 0287439 (International). (Note this number only operates from 9.00 - 17.00, Monday to Friday)

General enquiries can be made to: 0845 608 0022 (UK) or 0345 608 0022 (UK) and +44 845 608 0022 (International) or +44 345 608 0022 (International). Lines are open Monday to Friday 8.00 to 20.00 and Saturday 9.00 to 17.00.

15 If I am in another country and the debtor is in this Member State:

15.1 Can I address a request directly to such an authority or private organisation in this Member State?

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 an 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.

If there is an arrangement in place, applications for the recovery of maintenance under Regulation (EC) 4/2009 can be made directly to the court or can be transmitted to it by the Central Authority for Northern Ireland. Applications under other reciprocal arrangements should be sent to the Central Authority.

In these circumstances the Child Maintenance Service 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 Maintenance Service does not have jurisdiction to make a maintenance calculation.

15.2 If so, how can that authority or private organisation be contacted and what kind of assistance can I receive?

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, where appropriate, for a court order to be registered and for a solicitor to be appointed on behalf of the applicant subject to legal aid requirements.

The Central Authority will process your application and, if in order, will forward to the appropriate magistrates’ court for action (although as noted, applicationsunder Regulation (EU) 4/2009can also be made directly to the magistrates' court). The contact details for the Central Authority are provided above..

The Child Maintenance Service may be able to make a maintenance calculation in limited circumstances. See earlier answers for circumstances where an application cannot be accepted by the Child Maintenance Service and relevant contact details.

16 Is this Member State bound by the 2007 Hague Protocol?

The United Kingdom is not bound by the 2007 Hague Protocol and therefore it does not apply in Northern Ireland.

17 If this Member State is not bound by the 2007 Hague Protocol, which law will be applicable to the maintenance claim according to its private international law rules? What are the corresponding private international law rules?

The law of Northern Ireland applies to all cases decided in Northern Ireland.

18 What are the rules on access to justice in cross-border cases within the EU following the structure of Chapter V of the Maintenance Regulation?

For recovery of maintenance, legal representation is not usually required and fees are not required in the majority of cases.

Where legal representation is required, legal help and assistance is available (Chapter V) but is subject to a means and merits test in some cases; the applicant may be required to pay a contribution. As part of legal help, an assessment can be made to decide whether the nature of the case means full legal aid should be applied for.

19 What are the measures adopted by this Member State in order to ensure the functioning of the activities described in Article 51 of the Maintenance Regulation?

Link opens in new windowThe Civil Jurisdiction and Judgments (Maintenance) Regulations 2011 (SI 1484/2011) support the operation of Regulation (EC) 4/2009. Regulation 3 and Schedule 1 designate the Central Authorities for the UK (including Northern Ireland). Regulation 4 and Schedule 2 sets out which bodies are to provide information to the Central Authorities (including information on the debtor) and provide rules on the proper disclosure of that information by those Central Authorities who receive it.


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Last update: 28/06/2017