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Frequently Asked Questions

This section contains answers to commonly asked questions about child maintenance.

Do I have to use the Child Support Agency (CSA) to arrange child maintenance?

No. The CSA 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).

More than half a million separated families have arrangements between themselves 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 CSA to arrange child maintenance. Since the law changed, all parents - including those receiving benefits - can choose to opt-out of the CSA and sort out child maintenance directly with the other parent. This is called a family-based arrangement.

If you’re the non-resident 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.

Does the CSA 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, the government is considering bring in charging for setting up and managing child maintenance arrangements in the future.

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 or visit cmoptions.org .

For more information about using the CSA, 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 Child Support Agency (CSA). The CSA 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 law 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 or someone between 16 and 19 who:

  • is not, nor has ever been, married or in a civil partnership, and
  • is in full-time non-advanced education.

However, in certain circumstances, someone under 19 can still be regarded as a child for child maintenance purposes even if they are not in full-time non-advanced education.

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 Support Agency (CSA) can calculate a child maintenance amount for you.

How does the Child Support Agency calculate child maintenance?

The Child Support Agency (CSA) calculates an amount using rules set out by Child Support law. This amount is based on:

  • the net income of the non resident parent, and
  • the number of qualifying children the non resident parent lives apart from.

You can get an idea of what your payments might be, using the child maintenance calculator. You could also use this figure as a starting point for a family-based arrangement (where both parents sort out child maintenance between themselves, with no-one else getting involved).

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 Support Agency?

Either parent may apply to the CSA for an assessment if they wish to, as long as there is no Court Order in force regulating payments.

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).