Child maintenance

Advice on child maintenance and why it is important

What is child maintenance?

Child maintenance is regular, reliable financial support that helps towards a child’s everyday living costs. The parent who doesn’t have main day-to-day care of the child pays child maintenance to the parent who does. In some cases, this person can be a grandparent or guardian.

This page was written with support from Child Maintenance Options. The information that Child Maintenance Options has given on these pages is not a substitute for independent professional advice and readers should get professional advice relevant to their particular circumstances.

Why is child maintenance important?

Child maintenance can make a real difference to children as it can help pay for things like clothing, food and other essentials. It can also help to keep both parents involved with their lives. It doesn’t always have to be about exchanging money - providing support by paying for things like clothes and trips out can make just as much of a difference.

Whatever type of arrangement you put in place, it can help to give a child the best start in life. It’s also important to remember that paying maintenance for your child is a legal responsibility. Over half a million families choose to make an arrangement between themselves, by agreeing with the other parent about the amount and type of child maintenance that one will pay to the other. This is known as a family-based or family arrangement.

Advice on child maintenance

Arranging child maintenance with your child’s other parent

Over half a million children in theUK benefit from a ‘family-based’ child maintenance arrangement. These are agreements between both parents about who will provide what for a child.

They don’t have to be just about exchanging money - sharing the care of your children or buying things directly for them can also be included in a child maintenance arrangement if you both agree.  Child Maintenance Options has a range of tools to help you make a family-based child maintenance arrangement including: 

  • A family-based arrangement form to keep a record of what you have agreed,
  • A discussion guide with tips and guidance to help you talk to the other parent,
  • An online calculator based on the same rules that the Child Maintenance Service uses to work out child maintenance that can give you an idea of the amount that you could expect to pay or receive, and
  • Inspiration and advice from other separated parents and people we have helped.

Family-based arrangements aren’t enforceable by law. But if the other parent doesn’t keep up with payments you can go to the Child Maintenance Service or court to put in place an arrangement that is legally binding.

Using the child maintenance scheme 

If you can’t make a family-based arrangement work you can apply for a statutory child maintenance case managed by the Child Maintenance Service.

You’ll need to contact Child Maintenance Options before you can apply to the Child Maintenance Service. Call Child Maintenance Options free on 0800 988 0988* or visit the website at cmoptions.org to find out more.

The Child Maintenance Service offers two kinds of arrangement:

Direct Pay, where the Child Maintenance Service works out the amount of child maintenance a paying parent must pay. Both parents agree between themselves how and when the paying parent will pay the receiving parent direct. If the paying parent doesn’t pay in full and on time the Child Maintenance Service may move the case to Collect & Pay and may take immediate enforcement action.

Collect & Pay, where the Child Maintenance Service works out the amount of child maintenance to be paid, collects payments from the paying parent and passes them on to the receiving parent. If the paying parent doesn’t pay in full and on time the Child Maintenance Service may take immediate enforcement action. 

Fees & charges

On 30 June 2014 the Child Maintenance Service introduced application fees and enforcement charges. Iif you decide to use the Collect and Pay service, you’ll also have to pay fees for collecting and paying out child maintenance. They want to encourage more parents to work together to arrange child maintenance instead of using the Child Maintenance Service or the courts.

The fees are: 

  • A £20 application fee for any new application (You won’t have to pay this if you’re a victim of domestic violence; under 19 years of age; in Northern Ireland)
  • A 20% collection fee for paying parents using the Collect & Pay service, on top of their usual amount
  • A 4% collection fee for receiving parents using the Collect & Pay service, deducted from their usual amount
  • A range of enforcement charges for paying parents who fail to pay their child maintenance in full and on time.

There will be no collection fees for parents who work together to agree their own family based arrangement, or use Direct Pay.

Closing existing CSA cases

The Child Support Agency no longer accepts new applications. Child maintenance arrangements made through the CSA will be ending between now and 2017. If you are affected, you will get a letter up to six months beforehand, giving you a chance to put a new arrangement in place. Parents will be encouraged to think about making their own family-based arrangement, while those who can’t will be able to apply to the Child Maintenance Service.

Parents will be offered help and support throughout this change to help them make the child maintenance arrangement that’s right for them. 

What about using the courts?

The final option for arranging child maintenance and enforcing payments comes through the courts. This can differ depending on where in the country you and the other parent live, and it’s usually only the best option if you are going to court for other reasons (like arranging a divorce or dividing property or other assets), as courts rarely grant orders otherwise.

More information about going through the courts

Which children are covered by child maintenance?

Child Support law governs the level of child maintenance that should be paid by a parent who doesn’t have main day to day care, to the parent with main day-to-day care of the child. For child maintenance purposes, a child is anyone under 16 or someone between 16 and 19 who:

  • is not, nor has ever been, married or in a civil partnership, and 
  • is in full-time non-advanced education.

However, in certain circumstances, someone between 16 and 19 can still be regarded as a child for child maintenance purposes, even if they are not in full-time non-advanced education. To find out more, call Child Maintenance Options on 0800 988 0988 or visit the website.

How much child maintenance will I pay or receive?

With a family arrangement, you and the other parent can agree between yourselves how much child maintenance should be paid, and how often. A family arrangement also allows for times where you would rather pay for or receive specific things for your child, for example new clothes or a school trip, instead of money for child maintenance.

You can get an idea of what your payments might be by using the Child Maintenance Options calculator. You could use this figure as a starting point for a family arrangement. Remember, both parents can contact Child Maintenance Options on 0800 988 0988 or visit the website

More help and information

There is plenty of help and support available on a range of subjects linked to child maintenance and separation including housing, work and money from:

Child Maintenance Options, a free and impartial service that provides information, tools and support to help separating and separated parents make informed choices about child maintenance arrangements.  

Sorting out Separation web app, which can help you work out what other areas you need help with as a separated parent.

 

*Calls to 0800 numbers are free from BT landlines but you may have to pay if you use another phone company, a mobile phone, or if you are calling from abroad.

How we can help you

If you would like support and advice, you can talk to one of our Family Support Workers by calling our confidential helpline on 0808 800 2222. You can also share experiences and advice with other parents on our Forums. Family Lives is here for you and you can contact us about any family issue, big or small.

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