Building a new child maintenance calculator

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One of the first things to be sorted out after parents separate is to work out how much child maintenance should be paid. The Child Maintenance Agency (CMA) has provided its own calculator to carry out this job. The CMA calculator makes it easy to perform the calculation but I believe that the calculator still has a number of major drawbacks. I thought I could tackle these drawbacks and provide a more helpful online resource for separated parents who need to agree a child maintenance figure. So eight months ago, I decided what was needed was a really useful child maintenance calculator. I couldn’t find one so decided to build my own. These were the issues and this is how I tackled them.

  • The result delivered by the CMA calculator is not properly explained. It only provides a basic summary. This is not helpful to parents. Any family lawyer will tell you that the trust levels between parents, following a separation, can really take a battering. Simply carrying out the calculation and texting the end result to your fellow parent is probably going to prompt an unkind response. Something along the lines of “How do I know you’re not tricking me into paying too much?” My child maintenance calculator displays more of the inputs in the calculation, such as the level of gross income entered or the level of pension contributions so both parents can be assured of reasonable accuracy. And if there has been a mistake, then it will be much easier to spot and therefore much easier to correct.
  • The CMA calculator is not easy to navigate. By that, I mean that if you get to the end of the calculation and then realise you have made a mistake in one of the earliest steps taken in the calculation, then you effectively have to enter all the information again. My child maintenance calculator allows the user to ‘toggle’ any of the data inputs and the conditional logic lying behind the calculator will keep everything tidy and not require you to re-tread all the steps again.
  • There is no easy way to save or communicate the result of the CMA calculator to the other parent. One of the big challenges for parents following separation is the ability to keep the channels of communication open. So, how is a user of the CMA calculator meant to save the result of the calculation? You could execute a screen grab (capturing the image on the screen in front of you) but how many people know how to do that. Or, you could try to email the contents of the result page displaying in your internet browser to yourself or a fellow parent but the results are not always pretty.
  • Once you leave the results page of the CMA calculator, the result disappears forever. My child maintenance calculator has been constructed with the aim of allowing the result to be effortlessly captured in a clear PDF format. I chose PDF because it can be read on any computer platform and the software you need to read it is free. The PDF can be emailed directly to your inbox so you have a record of the result. Because it has been emailed to you, it is easy for you to forward that calculation to someone else when ever you are ready.
  • It is easy to ask the calculator to email the result to your co-parent, lawyer or mediator.
    • Your co-parent will receive a pleasant email explaining what the calculation is for and attaching it in a PDF. Sometimes it can be difficult to communicate and I thought this quick way of getting the child maintenance calculator to a co-parent without having to worry about “saying the wrong thing” or the tone of the email, would be helpful;
    • Your lawyer or mediator, should you also wish to send them the calculation will receive a friendly email attaching the PDF and identifying it as being from you.
  • The CMA child maintenance calculator has not been optimised for use on mobile devices (smart phones and tablets). How daft is that? Most of us, nowadays, use our mobile devices away from our homes and offices to access the internet. Naturally, I have made sure my calculator and the resulting calculation (captured in a PDF) are optimised for mobile use.
  • Finally, the calculator has been created to make life easier for separated parents. But, as a family specialist, I must declare an ulterior motive. I need to obtain a child maintenance calculation in most of the cases I have. What’s more, I need to check with my clients that I have carried out the calculation correctly. I often have to send the result of the calculation to other lawyers or to the family court. This means I (and thousands of other lawyers and mediators) have to use the CMA calculator which, for all the reasons pointed out above, makes what should be a straightforward task, long-winded, only half comprehensible and the perfect excuse for a bunfight over whether the right figures have been used. So, I also hope to have performed a small service to my fellow family law professionals.

The child maintenance calculator is over on my personal blog at Divorce Finance Toolkit. Parents, lawyers, mediators, collaborative practitioners, family arbitrators, financial advisers and judges are all welcome to use it.

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