New child maintenance schemes are being introduced across the UK this week to encourage separated parents to work together to support their children and to provide a more efficient service for those unable to reach agreement.
The reforms will end child maintenance arrangements on previous schemes and introduce fees for parents who choose to use the new 'collect and pay' service.
These fees are completely unavoidable. They are meant as an incentive to help parents to work together in the interests of the children.
It can, however, be difficult to make financial arrangements. That is why we are focusing on offering advice and support. Three options are available: family-based arrangements; direct pay; and collect and pay.
Research has demonstrated that children do better in a variety of areas in life when parents make their own family-based arrangement, when parents agree terms and make payments without support.
If they cannot agree on terms, they can use our free direct pay service, where we calculate the amount payable and the parents agree how and when payments are made.
For parents unable to reach agreement, the Child Maintenance Service will continue to provide support in collection/payment of child maintenance.
While this incurs a £20 application charge in Britain, I have decided to waive this charge for Northern Ireland to ensure that support in collection/payment of child maintenance remains accessible to those unable to make their own arrangements.
Parents who choose to use the collect and pay service will be charged at 20% for paying parents and 4% for receiving parents.
Any paying parent within this service who does not comply with their liability payments will have additional fees charged, ranging from £50 to £300.
However, all fees are avoidable and, with the correct support, I hope parents will work together to agree a child maintenance arrangement that best meets the needs of their children.
Nelson McCausland MLA is Minister for Social Development