Raising a child can be costly, and that’s why, in an ideal situation, both parents contribute to the costs of raising a child regardless of their relationship with one another. In Ireland, laws state that both parents are financially responsible for their kids, regardless of their living situation. But that doesn’t mean it’s a simple situation to decide who pays how much. Child maintenance in Ireland is complicated — read on to learn what you need to know.
A separated family is one that has separated because of divorce or a breakup¹. As it applies to child maintenance, members of a separated family can be:
- A parent who lives apart from their child
- The parent the child lives with, regardless of where they live and what kind of relationship they have with the other parent
- A child or children who live mainly with one parent
Custody is the right of a parent to make decisions about their child’s healthcare, education and other needs, as well as have main day-to-day care of that child. Married parents of a child automatically have equal custody. If the parents are unmarried or separate after the child’s birth, custody arrangements must be made either by the parents or by a court or mediator. Child maintenance is paid to the parent or guardian with custody by the parent(s) without custody. It can be paid to someone who isn’t a parent if the person with custody of the child is someone like another relative or a guardian².
Child maintenance, which is also called child support in many countries, is the financial support that’s supplied for a child in a separated family. Child maintenance is usually money that’s regularly paid to the parent with custody of the child, by the parent without custody; however, parents can also make their own child maintenance agreements, which can include directly paying for things the child needs, rather than just providing money. Child maintenance is meant to cover the child’s everyday living costs, which can include food, clothes, a place to live and more.
Child maintenance can be paid by either parent or by both parents if another relative or guardian has custody of the child³.
Under Irish law, both parents are legally required to provide financially for their children. In Ireland, you might be required to pay or eligible to receive child maintenance if you:
- Are the child’s biological parent
- Are the child’s adoptive parent
- Are a person who isn’t the child’s parent — perhaps a relative or friend — but you have been granted legal custody of the child
Child maintenance can be used for anything that provides for the child, including (but not limited to) food, housing, education, and clothes.
In Ireland, there a two options for arranging child maintenance:
- Family-based arrangement which is an informal agreement made between the parents, or
- Maintenance order** which is ordered and enforced by a court of law. Filing for a maintenance order may come with court fees, but a judge may order one parent to cover all the fees, or parents may qualify for legal aid⁴.
More on all of these options in the section on the best way of setting up payments.
If parents are making their own child maintenance agreement, they can figure how much financial support the child needs weekly or monthly and decide on an amount from there. There is no limit to how much parents can pay in child maintenance through a family-based arrangement⁴.
If a parent seeks a maintenance order, the court will use a number of factors to decide how much maintenance to order, including:
- The income, earning potential and financial assets of each parent
- The financial responsibilities of each parent
- The need of the parent with custody⁵
If one parent is in a relationship, that may also be taken into account. The maximum amount of child maintenance a court can order is €150 per week per child. Parents can also seek one-time orders of up to €2,000 to cover the expense of a child’s birth or funeral, as well as one-off lump sum orders of up to €6,350 for major expenses like Christmas or the start of a school year⁴.
In Ireland, you have a few options for paying child maintenance. In a family-based arrangement, the parents can decide together how much and how to pay. If a maintenance order is issued, there are a few other options.
If you’ve been issued a maintenance order and choose to pay through the court offices, you have options for how to make your weekly, fortnightly or monthly child maintenance payments. You can submit to the court:
- Bank drafts payable to the receiving parent
- Cheques made payable to the receiving parent
- Money orders
- Cash (must be paid in person, not through the mail)
If you have a maintenance order, you can also choose to make payments directly to the receiving parent, instead of making payments through the court⁴.
If you’re sending your child maintenance payments from abroad, it can be a little trickier. Read on for more on that.
Child maintenance must be paid until the child is 18, or until the child is 23 if he or she is enrolled in school full time. There is no age limit on child maintenance for a child that is dependent on a parent due to a disability⁴.
How can I reduce the child maintenance amount that I’m paying? Does shared residency affect child support?
If there’s a change in the child’s custody arrangement or in the financial situation of either parent, you can submit an application to the court to have a maintenance order adjusted. If your child maintenance agreement is family-based, the amount can just be adjusted by the parents without court involvement⁴.
In Ireland, child maintenance payments are tax deductible for the parent who is paying, and they’re counted as taxable income for the parent who is receiving the payments when they are enforced by the court⁶. However, you do not have to pay taxes on the legally enforced amount that is paid for your children⁷.
In Ireland, there are a few ways you can set up child maintenance payments, all with pros and cons.
- Family-based arrangement
- By maintenance order
Family-based arrangements are set up informally through an agreement made by both parents. The pros are that they don’t involve any conflict and they’re free to arrange. The con is that they’re not legally binding.
If the parents can’t agree on child maintenance, they can apply for a maintenance order through their local District Court³. Getting a maintenance order will generally come with court fees, but a judge may order one parent to be responsible for those, or parents can apply for national legal aid. A maintenance order is legally binding³, and it can be paid by bank draft, cheque, money order or cash, either directly to the recipient or through the court⁴. If the maintenance order is paid through the court, there is a legal record kept of every payment made, which can come in handy if there’s ever a dispute or missed payment. However, paying through the court means payments can only be made during office hours, and there are delays before the money gets to the receiving parent and the child. Paying the recipient directly means no delays, but also no official record of the payments⁴.
Ireland belongs to a number of international conventions that allow the collection of child maintenance payments from outside the country. However, this can still be a complicated process. If the paying parent refuses to pay, there are some options. If they live within the European Union or in one of over 100 countries, including Australia, that are part of the Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Orders (REMO) agreement, collection of child maintenance may be enforceable through the courts. However, whether he or she can be forced to pay ultimately comes down to what country he or she lives in. The Central Authority for Maintenance Recovery handles cases in which the paying parent lives outside the country, and if you have questions or problems with your individual arrangement, it’s best to contact the Authority directly, since resolution will vary based on what other country is involved. It may also be a good idea to contact a family court or divorce attorney to explore your options, as every case is unique⁴.
If you’re living outside Ireland and need to make child maintenance payments, there might be a better option than transferring money via your banks. Banks and traditional money transfer services often mark up their exchange rates by 4-5%, meaning you shoulder that hidden cost just to send money to your child. Another option is TransferWise, which gives you the real exchange rate — the same one you see when you Google it. TransferWise only offers a small, fair transfer fee that’s spelled out upfront. TransferWise also offers borderless multi-currency accounts, which allow users to send, receive and manage money in multiple global currencies all at once, for no monthly fee.
Navigating child maintenance can be a tricky and emotionally fraught subject. But with education and research, you can be comfortable in knowing you’re doing what’s best for your child, regardless of your situation. With this information, you should have a good start on knowing how to navigate child maintenance in Ireland, even if you live somewhere different. Knowledge is power, and in this case, your best tool for taking care of your child.