In 1993 a new administrative system was introduced by the Child Support Act of 1991 for assessing maintenance in all new cases of the children of separated families. The Child Support Agency provides an administrative system which has a jurisdiction parallel to that of the court system, which continues to deal with child support in areas not covered by the Act. It also continues to deal with capital for children and with spousal claims for maintenance and capital.
The new system was set up to provide for the assessment, collection and enforcement of maintenance for children under the age of 19 who are not in advanced education, that is to say university education, who have not been married, and who do not live, and neither of whose parents live, habitually abroad. It does not include stepchildren and in a society of serial marriages this means that different children of the same family are often treated differently with respect to maintenance, a result wholly at odds with the objective of the Children Act 1989, which was to treat similarly children of the same family.
Another major difference between the Child Support Act and the Children Act is that the former gives paramountcy to the children whereas in the Child Support Act their welfare is merely a factor to which a child support officer may have regard.
The objectives of the new system were set out in the Government White Paper Children Come First (Command Number 1263 1990). It sought to create a consistent pattern of maintenance for children throughout the country based on a formula system as distinct from the discretion-based system of the courts. It was intended that there should be a reduction in social security benefit expenditure from the improved arrangement and it was expected that parents on benefit would also enjoy an improvement in their position.