Some parents reach an agreement about the level of support that is going to be paid by each of them to help with their child's expenses.
This may be part of an overall settlement concerning financial arrangements or just the child support part of it. You can decide whether this should be in cash or ‘in kind' (for example, by providing clothes, school equipment or holidays); how much, how often and how it is paid (by cash, cheque or standing order); and how long it lasts. You won't necessarily need to use the courts or the Child Support Agency (CSA), and there's plenty of help available to help you set it up, for example, you can use the maintenance calculator on the Child Maintenance Options website to help you work out how much should be paid.
The Child Maintenance Options website and telephone service - see Useful links has been set up to help people make an informed choice about what arrangements will be best for them and their children. It provides lots of other information about things to consider when deciding whether or not a private agreement is right for you.
Both the CSA and the Child Maintenance Options service are run by a government agency called the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) which covers Great Britain. The Child Maintenance Options website includes some useful resources, including a 'private agreement form' which you can download and use to record the arrangement you have agreed. (see Useful links).
There are advantages and disadvantages to a private agreement:
- A private agreement is flexible, which means that you can re-negotiate it whenever you like.
- Provided you are willing to work together, making the agreement can be quick and there's no need to involve either the CSA or the courts.
- There are no set rules so you can be more flexible with changes in circumstances and with payments in kind.
- There's little paperwork to do.
- It can help to keep things friendly between you and the other parent.
- If there are any problems with payment or the agreement needs to be changed, you will initially have to deal with the other parent directly, so you need to be reasonably comfortable about staying in touch.
- An agreement between unmarried parents is not legally binding and so there is no way of enforcing missed payments. If you were married/civil partners, and recorded the arrangements in a court order, you will be able to apply to the court to enforce the missed payments (see When to use a court). If the order is over a year old and you cannot agree what is to happen in the future, you may wish to switch to a CSA arrangement in relation to future payments.
Whether you are paying or receiving child maintenance, it is a good idea to keep a record of what is paid and when, so you may like to arrange for this to be by standing order.
If you want to negotiate your own settlement but are finding it hard to reach agreement, you could get help from a mediator, collaborative family lawyer or solicitor (see Professional help and advice).
Except in certain circumstances (see When to use a court), if you cannot agree a private arrangement you will have to apply to the CSA to determine what child maintenance should be paid.
Private agreement form
The Child Maintenance Options service has produced a simple Private agreement form to help you and the other parent record the details of your private agreement. It's easy to fill out and can be a sign of your commitment to the agreement. Download it from the Child Maintenance Options website.
- What are the financial needs of the children (each parent may have to account for accommodation, food, schooling, travel, clothing, savings, presents, phone bills, holidays and entertainment)?
- How much should any maintenance be?
- Decide whether to make a private agreement for child maintenance or to use the CSA.
- Set up a system for paying maintenance – e.g. a standing order.
- Consider life insurance to cover maintenance you receive.
- Review maintenance whenever circumstances change.
- Check whether you are entitled to tax credits and any State benefits.
- Are there any other cash costs not covered by day-to-day maintenance that will need to be met (e.g. school fees)? Who will pay these?
- If the person who previously got child benefit no longer has main day-to-day care of the children, contact the Child Benefit Office.