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This section contains information on how to agree on child maintenance with the other parent. This is called a Family-based Arrangement.

More than half a million children in Great Britain benefit from child maintenance arrangements which parents have agreed between themselves. These are called family-based arrangements - although you might also have heard them called family arrangements, voluntary arrangements or private agreements.

Many parents think this type of arrangement is a better option for them and their children because it allows flexibility and no-one else has to get involved.

Why choose a family-based arrangement?

There are several advantages to family-based arrangements. They are private and are about your family, no-one else's. They can also be quicker and easier to sort out, as you don't have to deal with lots of paperwork. Because there are no fixed rules, they are also flexible and easier to change.

This can mean fewer arguments about money, and may also help you work together in other ways, which is almost always in the children's best interests.

And, unlike other child maintenance arrangements (it has been reported in the media that there may be a charge for statutory arrangements in the future), a family-based arrangement is completely FREE to set up.

What should you include?

The most important thing about a family-based arrangement is that you and the other parent decide between yourselves how and when you will both support your child.

For example, you could both agree that the parent without the main day-to-day care pays:

  • a fixed regular amount
  • a larger 'lump sum' at various points in the child's life
  • a proportion of their earnings
  • directly for items such as school uniforms or day trips
  • a mix of some or all of the above

Alternatively, you could share the care of your child - for example they could stay with the parent without the main day-to-day care during the school holidays, or a couple of nights a week.

What you agree on depends on what you think will work best for you and your children.

It is a good idea to keep a record of all payments made and received, to limit any potential disagreements or misunderstandings. You might also want to review your arrangement at least once a year to make sure it's still working.

Step By Step Guide

Generally, there are five steps to setting up a family-based arrangement. By following them, it will hopefully make the process as easy as possible.

Step 1 - Find the right time
Step 2 - Work out what your child needs
Step 3 - Decide how you will share the cost
Step 4 - Write it down
Step 5 - Do it and review it


Step 1 - Find the right time

Sitting down to work out a child maintenance arrangement might seem a bit of a daunting task. It may be something you don't feel ready to do yet.

But in most cases, it's better to discuss things sooner rather than later. The quicker you can work out an arrangement, the clearer your child's future will seem and the more secure you'll feel.

You might also want to bear in mind that the government is considering charging parents for using the statutory child maintenance scheme in the future. So if you can make a FREE family-based arrangement, you won't be affected by this.

Think about where and when you want to talk about your arrangement. Some people prefer somewhere private like their home, while others prefer somewhere more neutral like a café.

Try to find a convenient time when you can both concentrate on the conversation - collection or drop off times are not usually the best times, and neither is late at night when you're both tired.

Get further guidance on talking about child maintenance.

Step 2 - Work out what your child needs

The next step is to work out what your child needs, and how much this will cost.

All children need clothes, food, and a roof over their heads. You might also need to think about child care costs. Other things will depend on how old your child is - for example, young children might need a buggy, whereas older children might need a mobile phone.

Need some help with this step? Our expenditure form aims to help you work out what your child's needs are.

Step 3 - Decide how you will share the cost

How you share the cost of raising your child is for you and your ex-partner to decide. For example, you might agree to 'split the difference', or vary it according to how much money you each earn.

You could both agree that the parent without the main day-to-day care pays: 

  • a fixed regular amount
  • a larger 'lump sum' at various points in the child's life
  • directly for items such as school uniforms or day trips
  • a mix of some or all of the above

A family-based child maintenance arrangement doesn't have to just mean one parent paying money to the other. You could decide to share the care of your child - for example they could stay with the parent without the main day-to-day care during the school holidays, or a couple of nights a week.

It's all about what you can both agree works best for you.

The contribution made by the parent without the main day-to-day care of the child is what's usually called "child maintenance".

Get further guidance on talking about child maintenance .

Step 4 - Write it down

Family-based arrangements aren't legally binding, but it's still worth putting your agreement in writing and both signing it. That way you'll both have a record of what's been agreed, and will have made a joint commitment to sticking to it.

Download the family-based arrangement form here , so you can record your arrangement details on it.

If you want to write down other arrangements for your child at the same time, you could make your child maintenance arrangements part of a parenting plan.

You may also find it helpful to keep a record of things you buy and payments you make.

Step 5 - Do it and review it

Some parents decide to review their child maintenance arrangement every year, or when children reach milestones like birthdays or a change in schools.

When you come to reviewing your arrangement, you can refer back to these five steps to reach a new agreement and record in writing what you have agreed..