Child maintenance is money to pay for your child’s living costs. It is paid by the parent who no longer lives with the child, to the person who has the majority care of the child. It is also known as child support.
In Northern Ireland, child maintenance applies to children who are under the age of 16 or 20 and still in full-time education not higher than A-Level.
How does Child Maintenance work?
You are entitled to child maintenance if:
- you’re the child’s main caregiver
- the other parent does not live in the same house as part of your family
The main caregiver is usually a parent but can also be the child’s grandparent or guardian.
You’ll have to pay child maintenance if you:
- are the child’s biological or adoptive parent
- don’t live with the child as part of their family
- are the child’s legal parent
Options for arranging child maintenance
There are four options for arranging child maintenance payments with your ex-partner:
You and your ex-partner arrange the child maintenance agreement in private between you.
The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) calculates how much child maintenance should be paid, but you and your ex-partner arrange how it will be paid between you.
Collect and Pay
The CMS calculates how much child maintenance should be paid, collects the money from one parent, and passes it to the other.
If you can reach an agreement for child maintenance with the other parent, you can apply to the court to make it a formal legally binding agreement with the help of a solicitor. Before going to court both parents need to decide what is going to be paid and how often.
Putting in place a Consent Order will involve legal costs for:
- court fees
If you can’t afford the costs, you might qualify for help with legal costs through Legal Aid.
How do you know how much to pay?
You can use the online calculator to find out how much child maintenance you might pay or receive. The calculated amounts are a guide only for parents living apart.
To use the calculator, you will need the following information:
- the paying parent’s gross weekly income
- the number of children the maintenance is to be paid for
- the number of nights, on average, the paying parent has the child(children) for each year
- the number of other children living in the paying parent’s household
The calculator can give you an indication of the amount of maintenance that might be payable.
What happens if you don’t pay maintenance?
If the parent who should be paying child maintenance doesn’t pay, the other parent can ask the court to enforce the Consent Order. The court can order money to be taken directly from the wages or property of the parent who should be paying child maintenance and can also force them to sell their belongings.
The parent who doesn’t have the day-to-day care (the ‘paying parent’) pays child maintenance to the parent or person who does (the ‘receiving parent’).
If you use the CMS Collect and Pay service but don’t make a payment or don’t pay the full amount, CMS will telephone and write to you. CMS will tell you that they will start enforcement action within a week unless you:
- agree to pay the full amount missed
- keep to the original child maintenance decision
If you don’t agree, CMS can take action to collect the money from you.
- Deduct from earnings request
- Deduct from bank or buildings society
- Liability court order
For more advice on legal matters regarding child maintenance and please get in touch with one of our expert family lawyers who will be able to provide you will all the support you need.