Frequently Asked Questions
This section contains answers to commonly asked questions about child maintenance.
Do I have to use the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to arrange child maintenance?
No. The CMS will only ever become involved at the request of either parent and should be seen as a last resort where parents have not been able to make a family-based arrangement (where parents sort out child maintenance between themselves).
Around 1.5 million children in the United Kingdom benefit from thier parents having a family-based arrangement for child maintenance, and the number is growing.
What happens if I’m on benefits?
The law used to say that if the parent with the main day-to-day care was receiving state benefits, they had to use the old Child Support Agency to arrange child maintenance. Since the law changed, all parents - including those receiving benefits - can choose to opt-out of the Child Maintenance, and sort out child maintenance directly with the other parent. This is called a family-based arrangement.
If your child spends most his time with thier other parent, and you’re on benefits, you can still make a family-based arrangement. This gives you the flexibility to agree with the other parent how much to pay and when.
What happens if both parents have equal shared care of thier children?
When there is an equal shared care of the children, then the law says there is no child maintenance to be paid. If you choose to, you can make your own family-based arrangment for child maintenance.
Does the CMS keep some of the child maintenance that’s paid?
In the past, if a parent with care was on income-related state benefits, their benefit entitlement was reduced if they received over a certain amount of child maintenance. So it might have seemed like the CSA or the government were taking some of the money being paid.
Since April 2010, any child maintenance that is paid will be passed on to the parent with care without affecting their benefit entitlement. Which means more money will reach your children.
However, there is an application fee of £20, unless you have experienced domestic abuse, are under 16 years of age, or live in Northern Ireland).
There are two types of services - direct pay, and collect and pay.
Direct pay - This service is suitable for those who have agreed how the money will be paid from one parent to the other. The CMS will calculate the amount to be paid each month. The payment is made directly to the receiving parent. It is advisable to make sure that the money is paid via a standing order into the receiving parent's bank account. This way each parent has a record of when each payment was made, and how much each payment was for. This record will be useful if the arrangement breaks down, and payments are not made, or underpaid.
Where can I get more information about child maintenance?
Child Maintenance Options is a free service for separated families. It provides impartial information and support to help parents sort out child maintenance and deal with many of the other issues around separation. You can call Child Maintenance Options on 0800 988 0988.
For more information about using the Child Maintenance Service visit the Gov.uk section on child maintenance.
How do I set up a child maintenance arrangement?
Many parents find that making a family-based arrangement is the easiest, quickest and most flexible way to sort out child maintenance. This is where both parents agree on what counts as child maintenance, and when and how it is paid.
No-one else needs to get involved when you make a family-based arrangement, but if you want to you can speak to Child Maintenance Options for free, impartial help and information.
If a family-based arrangement doesn’t work for you, you may be able apply to the CMS, who can accept applications from:
- either parent
- children aged 12 or over who live in Scotland
- other people caring for children who need child maintenance
Which children are covered by child maintenance?
Child Support legislation governs the level of child maintenance that should be paid by a natural parent who is not resident in the child's household, to the parent with main day-to-day care of the child.
For child maintenance purposes, a child is anyone under 16 years of age, or someone between 16 years and under 20 years who:
- is not, nor has ever been, married or in a civil partnership, and
- is in approved education or training.
However, in certain circumstances, someone under 20 can still be regarded as a child for child maintenance purposes even if they are not in approved education or training.
How much child maintenance should be paid?
With a family-based arrangement, you and the other parent can agree between yourselves how much child maintenance should be paid, and how often.
A family-based arrangement would also allow 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.
You can get an idea of what your payments should be, using the child maintenance calculator. You could use this figure as a starting point for a family-based arrangement.
If you still cannot agree on an amount, the Child Maintenance Service can calculate a child maintenance amount for you.
How does the Child Maintenance Service calculate child maintenance?
The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) calculates an amount using rules set out by Child Support law. This amount is based on:
- the gross income of the paying parent, this can include wages, income from a pension and other taxable income, and
- the number of qualifying children the paying parent lives apart from.
- the number of other children the paying parent also pays child maintenance for
What child maintenance payments can a court order?
The court still retains its powers to make orders for
- the payment of school fees
- child maintenance for step children or disabled children
- child maintenance for those who are in further education and certain other specific situations
It can also order that capital sums be paid for children, or that property must be made available for them, in certain circumstances.
Who can use the Child Maintenance Service?
You may apply to the CMS for an assessment (as long as there is no Court Order in force regulating payments) if you are:
A parent of the child (you do not need to be living with your child to apply),
A grandparent, or other legal guardian of the child,
A child over the age of 12 years and lviing in Scotland.
However, many parents find it’s quick and easier to make a family-based arrangement (where both parents sort out child maintenance between themselves, with no-one else getting involved).