What is Child Maintenance?

Child Maintenance means regular financial support paid by one parent to another to contribute towards the child’s everyday living costs. This covers children who are under 16, or under 20 and in full time education.

How to Apply for Child Maintenance

I am often asked by a separating parent how they can apply for child maintenance. Many are unaware that making an application to the court is no longer an option available to all parents, particularly unmarried parents.

You can arrange child maintenance yourself, or through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). The CMS is a ‘statuary child maintenance service’, which will work out how much should be paid, and they can also collect payments.

The CMS is a government run agency and is nothing to do with the court system. If you are not able to agree the level of child maintenance that is to be paid either parent can apply to the CMS for an assessment.

Child Maintenance Agreements

It is preferable if both parents can agree the level of financial support the parent with full time care should receive.  Studies show that agreements cause less animosity between the parents and can cover various scenarios and expenditure, such as clothing, school trips, and childcare fees and so on. Many parents opt to share all these expenses.

The level and frequency of child maintenance can be recorded in a written document, should both parents fully agree. If a more complex arrangement is agreed – or the rate at which yearly increases should be made.  The document may need to be correspondingly more thorough.  The document does not have to be registered with the CMS.

A child maintenance agreement is useful when both parents trust each other, and are fully honest about their financial circumstances. However, a private agreement is not legally binding. So, if one parent changes their mind they will not be held to the terms of the agreement.  An application may then have to be made to the CMS.

A court agreement is very similar to a private agreement however, the parent’s agreement is recorded and approved by the court in the form of an order. This type of agreement is legally binding for at least 12 months. Should one parent wish to change the terms of the agreement, and that change is not agreed, either may apply to the CMS for an assessment.  This is an option only as part of a divorce or dissolution, and only by agreement.

Most parents should approach the CMS to answer queries that they might have regarding child maintenance.  There is a very helpful website available where a calculation can be made about a maintenance liability.

Who Pays Child Maintenance?

The ‘paying parent’ is the one who doesn’t have day to day care of the child. They will pay maintenance to the parent who does have day to day care of the child, the ‘receiving parent’.

Where care is shared equally there is no child support liability, although when one parent receives the child benefit the CMS take that as an indication that such parent has care and will carry out an assessment.

There are 4 rates of child maintenance; these rates are used with the paying parent’s income to calculate a weekly amount of child maintenance. You can find a maintenance calculator and other information here. If you require further information on this or any other family related matter please contact us by phone on 0845 287 0939 or submit your enquiry through our contact form.