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Child maintenance: what are my options?

Child maintenance: what are my options?

Since the estimated cost to raise a child from birth to age 18 for a single parent climbed to £193,801 in 2021, fair financial arrangements in relation to children are arguably more crucial than ever for separating families.

What is child maintenance?

The ethos behind child maintenance is that both parents are responsible for the costs of raising their children, regardless of whether the parents were ever in a relationship or go on to remarry. It consists of a regular (usually monthly) payment, from the parent with who does not have the main day-to-day care of the child to the parent who does. Contrary to common belief, the liability for maintenance is not dependent on whether the payer has contact with that child. Equally, a parent’s entitlement to contact is not dependent on paying maintenance.

How do I organise maintenance?

Maintenance payments can be settled in a variety of ways:

  • Privately between individuals, though this format will not be legally binding. If at any point either parent changes their mind, neither are likely to be held to the terms of the agreement.
  • By order of the court, often part of a consent order drafted between separating parents.
  • Via the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), which was introduced in 2012 to replace the Child Support Agency.
  • Under Schedule I Children Act 1989 by the child themselves. This is a complex area and only applies in certain ‘special’ circumstances.

Even if you wish to agree maintenance with the other parent directly, it is best to use the CMS calculator in order to assess the correct amount. The CMS uses a fixed formula applying the following criteria:

  • Gross income (salaries, wages and self-employed income as declared via HMRC)
  • Bonuses, commission, overtime payments and royalties
  • Overseas income
  • The number of overnight stays the child has (if any) with the non-resident parent
  • Whether the non-resident parent has other dependent children

Areas however that the CMS calculation may not apply, includes where the paying parent lives outside the UK, has a particularly high income, or the calculation does not reflect circumstances such as a child’s disability and the extra financial pressures associated.

How long is maintenance paid for?

Maintenance used to have to be paid until the child attained the age of 18 or ceased full-time education (up to A-levels or equivalent). Nowadays with more children going on to complete further training or apprenticeships, it can continue up to the age of 20. Any maintenance beyond this to include tertiary education has to be dealt with separately.

If maintenance is not paid, both the CMS and the courts can deploy various methods of recovering arrears.

This article is written as a general guide and believed correct at the date of publication. If you need further or more specific information relating to your situation, please get in touch with our Famiily team on 0118 978 0099, email or complete our online contact form.

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