Child Maintenance Support: The Essential Guide

14th January 2020
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What is a parent’s financial obligation to their child?

Whilst a couple may have separated or divorced, you cannot sever the financial obligation between a parent and child. The law obliges a parent to maintain their child financially. Both parents are responsible for the costs of raising their child, even if they do not live with them. As such, a non-resident parent has an ongoing obligation to contribute to the financial upkeep of their child. The Child Support Act 1991 governs the support payments made for child maintenance.

What is the duration of child maintenance?

Child maintenance support lasts until the child is 16 years of age or 20 years of age if the child is in full time education (up to A-levels or equivalent qualification). Parents can agree between themselves to extend the period of payment beyond these age boundaries.

Can child maintenance be agreed?

Parents can privately agree between themselves child maintenance support.  This is known as a family-based agreement.

The government provides an online calculator to help parents decide how much payments should be. If parents are unable to reach an agreement between themselves, one parent can apply to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), a government scheme previously known as Child Support Agency.

How to apply to Child Maintenance Services (CMS)

To avoid their formal intervention, the CMS scheme encourages parents to reach a decision on child maintenance between themselves. On applying to the CMS, parents must demonstrate that they have previously attempted (but failed) to agree a figure between themselves.

Only the parent, grandparent, or guardian of a child can apply for child maintenance. They must have a right to live in the UK and their main home must be in the UK.

What are the costs involved in applying to the Child Maintenance Services (CMS)?

The CMS can charge for applying for, collecting and enforcing child maintenance. The application fee is a one-off fee of £20. There will be no charge for applying if the parent is a victim of domestic violence or abuse, under 19 years of age or lives in Northern Ireland.

The CMS offer a Collect and Pay services, whereby they collect the child maintenance from the paying parent and pass on the payments. A 20% collection fee is added to each child maintenance payment collected from the paying parent. The receiving parent will be charged a 4% collection fee, each time payment is passed on to them.

How is child maintenance calculated?

Child maintenance support is based on a parent’s gross income (rather than net income) relative to the number of nights the child stays with them, including State Pension and any benefits they receive. The current up to date calculation is on the CMS website.

If a paying parent’s gross weekly income is more than £3,000, you can apply to court for a child maintenance ‘top-up’ order.

The amount payable is affected by:

  • Whether the parents share the care of the child; or
  • The parent has other children that they support

A parent does not have to pay child maintenance if they are:

  • Sharing care equally with the other parent;
  • A full-time student with no income; or
  • In prison

Payments are made each month from one parent to the other.  Parents are advised to set up a direct debit.

When is child maintenance reviewed?

Every 12 months the CMS will re-evaluate the child maintenance figure. They will use the latest available full tax year income to review the salary of the paying parent for the previous year.

If either parent’s circumstances change in the meantime, they should inform the CMS straight away, as it may affect the amount of child maintenance payable.


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