Child maintenance (also called “child support”) is regular, reliable financial support paid towards a child’s everyday living costs such as food, clothing, and housing. It is payable following separation, divorce or the end of a civil partnership. It can also apply if you have never been in a relationship.
It is paid by one of the parents who does not live with the child, to the other parent, caregiver, or guardian with the child’s main day to day care.
You must have a maintenance arrangement if your child is under 16 (or under 20 if they are still in full-time education studying for):
- Highers (Scotland), or
Child maintenance might stop earlier – for example, if one parent dies or the child no longer qualifies for child benefit.
Both parents are responsible for the costs of raising their children, even if they do not see them.
Who needs to pay child maintenance?
You will have to pay maintenance if you:
- are the child’s biological or adoptive parent
- do not live with the child as part of their family.
- are the child’s legal parent
How can child maintenance be arranged?
Parents are free to choose the best maintenance arrangement to suit their family’s needs. There are 3 different ways to arrange maintenance:
- Some people arrange maintenance voluntarily with each other referred to as a “family-based arrangement”. Family-based arrangements are private agreements between both parents about who will provide what for a child. They don’t have to be just about exchanging money – the paying parent could, for example, agree to provide school uniforms, pay for school trips or extra-curricular activities. The main benefits of family-based arrangements are that they are private, quick, and easy to set up. They are also flexible and can be changed if your circumstances change without anyone else becoming involved. Research has shown that separated parents are twice as likely to be happy with a family-based arrangement as they are with a statutory arrangement imposed on them.
- Use the Child Maintenance Service, which calculates and collects the correct maintenance payments. The Child Maintenance Service can also act if a parent does not pay.
- Allow a Court to decide the amount of maintenance payments. This usually happens when the paying parent lives overseas or has a high salary.
What should be included in a family-based child maintenance agreement?
A family-based agreement should include the following areas and be signed by both parents/parties:
- The amount of maintenance that should be paid.
- How and when the payments will be made
- An agreed date to review the child maintenance agreement and make any changes if necessary.
- Details of any additional payments for example extra-curricular activities or educational expenses.
It is important to note that Family-based arrangements for maintenance are not legally binding, but if they do not work out, it’s possible to later apply to the CMS.
Out of the parents that already had a family-based arrangement in place, 85% of those parents said that it was working well for them, with the vast majority saying that they either received all or some of the agreed amount on time or usually on time.
How is child maintenance calculated?
The amount of financial support an absent parent pays is dependent on many different factors. These include income, assets, age of the child, levels of savings, pension contributions, any special health needs the child has and any additional support already being given to support the home where the child lives.
In relation to income, child maintenance is calculated according to how much the paying parent earns per week. The figure used is gross weekly income, which represents the figure before National Insurance, tax etc., have been deducted.
The easiest way to get an idea of how much the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) would ask the absent parent to pay is by using the Child Maintenance Service calculator.
To use the calculator, you will need to know if the one of you who will be paying gets any benefits and how much they earn. If you both look after your child, (for example under a birdnesting arrangement), you will also need to know how many nights each week the child spends with each of you.
Does shared care affects child maintenance?
Yes, it does. If your child spends some time with the paying parent during a year, this will reduce the amount of child maintenance he or she pays by the following:
52 and 103 nights: child maintenance is reduced by 1/7th for each child.
104 and 155 nights: child maintenance is reduced by 2/7th for each child.
156 and 174 nights: child maintenance is reduced by 3/7th for each child.
175 nights or more nights: child maintenance is reduced by 50%, plus an extra £7 a week reduction for each child.
What is the child maintenance Consent Order 12 month rule?
This means that the agreement for child maintenance contained in the Consent Order is only valid for the first 12 months. After 12 months you can ask the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to arrange maintenance for you.
For more information on family based arrangements visit the Child Arrangement form.
This arrangement form can help you work together to make sure your children receive as much support as possible. Use it to write down what you have both agreed so you have a record of how much child maintenance one parent will pay.
For more information on everything to do with child maintenance, visit Gingerbread’s dedicated child maintenance information page.
Our article What is child custody in England & Wales provides more information on living arrangements for children and parents.