In France, parents are required to contribute to the maintenance and education of their children in line with the parents’ income and the needs of their children. This requirement does not end when the child reaches the age of 18, but continues until the child becomes financially independent (when they complete higher education or earn a salary equivalent to at least the minimum wage). With regard to studies, it is not enough for the child to be enrolled at university; there must be proof of professional interest in the chosen subjects, that the child actually attends classes and of the child’s needs.
This strong principle of French law generally surprises those living in England, where child support is only compulsory until the child reaches 18.
Who pays child support?
In the event of separation or divorce, one parent usually pays child support to the other parent. Child support is designed to cover the necessary day-to-day expenditures of the child, for example food, clothing and healthcare costs. In addition to this, extraordinary expenses, including medical expenses that are not reimbursed, school trips and driving licences, can also be paid directly by the parent who is already paying child maintenance.
Agreeing child maintenance
In an amicable divorce or separation, the parents can agree on the amount of child support between themselves, outside any legal proceedings.
This agreement can be made either in a divorce agreement or in a parental agreement concerning child maintenance and education obligations. In the first case, the divorce agreement is registered by a notary and is legally binding. In the second case, the family court must be asked to approve the agreement. The family court judge has the power to refuse approval if they think that the interests of the child are not being respected.
In the context of a contentious divorce or separation, the family court determines the contribution to the maintenance and education of the child.
How is the amount of child support worked out?
The judge always rules based on the situation of the parents and the children on the day of the hearing. They take into account the number of children, the parents’ expenses and income, the children’s needs, their lifestyle and the children’s place of residence.
Determining the amount of child support is left to the judge’s discretion. In order to reduce disputes and recourse to the judge, the Ministry of Justice has developed a reference table which takes into account the income of the parent paying child support, from which the minimum subsistence figure for the paying parent is deducted and to which a percentage based on the extent of the access and accommodation rights is applied. This table is indicative and not binding. It does not apply to more than €5,000 of income for the parent paying maintenance. Child support calculators are also available on official websites.
Hence, a parent who receives €3,500 per month and has three children in a shared custody agreement will not pay the same amount of maintenance as a parent who receives €3,500 with one child that they have every other weekend. In the case of shared custody or residence, maintenance is paid to the parent with the lower income.
Extraordinary expenses decided by mutual agreement are often paid directly by the parents in proportion to their income. The decisions include an indexation clause to reflect the cost of living.
The judge does not anticipate possible future costs that may change according to the needs of the children. In the event of new circumstances (e.g. changes in the paying parent’s income, changes in the child’s needs or changes in the receiving parent’s situation), and in the absence of an agreement between the parents, the matter may be referred to the judge to request a review of the amount of maintenance.
What happens if your child’s other parent isn’t paying child support?
To help with recovering frequent unpaid maintenance payments, a new procedure has just come into effect. It allows the parent receiving the maintenance to submit a claim to the “Caisse d’Allocations Familiales” (family allowance fund) by filling in a simple form. This procedure avoids the need for a judge or bailiff.
The receiving parent can ask the judge for authorisation to seize the wages of the paying parent. This procedure, known as “direct payment”, requires the intervention of a bailiff, who will set up the garnishment.