How Does Child Maintenance Work?

How does Child Maintenance work?

Child Maintenance is when a parent receives regular financial support to help with the everyday costs of raising children when parents are no longer together. It applies to children under the age of 16, or up until the age of 20 if the young person is still in full-time education (not higher than A-Level).

Arranging child maintenance

Generally, the parent who does not have day-to-day care is the “paying parent” who pays child maintenance to the parent who does and is the “receiving parent”. Having this arrangement in place can help with the wellbeing of the children, and with the family relationships post-breakup. 

Both parents are legally responsible for the financial costs of bringing up children, even if you don’t live with your children. The financial costs of bringing up children are significant, so child maintenance can really help. 

Separated parents can arrange child maintenance:

  • privately through a family-based arrangement
  • through a Consent Order from a court 
  • through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS)

Where can I get support?

You can access support through Child Maintenance Choices, it is a free service that can provide you with advice and help you to decide what will work best for your family. Both parents need to agree on the final arrangement so that financial support can be regular and reliable and not cause any unnecessary friction. 

Family-based arrangement

If both parents can agree on child maintenance without a court or the help of the Child Maintenance Service, this is a family-based arrangement, you can sort this out privately. 

For example, you could both agree that the paying parent pays:

  • part of their income
  • a lump sum at different points in the child’s life
  • for specific items such as school clothes instead of giving money
  • a regular set amount directly to the receiving parent
  • bills such as home heating oil or mortgage payments

The limitations are that this is not necessarily legally binding, so if one parent suddenly decides to stop paying they cannot be forced to start paying again. The advantages are that this is quick to sort out, and with no court involvement, it can be handled privately. If the other parent is not willing to cooperate or isn’t being open about their financial situation this kind of less formal agreement will not work. 

Consent Order

A Consent Order is an official ruling made by a court. Both parents will need to agree on how much child maintenance is going to be paid and when before going to court. Child Maintenance Choices can help you to work out how much you might need. This is a good starting point, and once the amount has been agreed the court will decide if that is reasonable. A Consent Order is legally binding, you can this with the other parent privately or with the help of your solicitor. 

Legal costs

Putting in place a Consent Order will involve legal costs for:

  • solicitors
  • mediators
  • court fees

If you can’t afford the costs, you might qualify for help with legal costs through Legal Aid.  We have a blog post that explains the Legal Aid process, you can read that here and ask our staff if you have any questions. 

Paying child maintenance

Problems can arise when the paying parent doesn’t pay, the receiving parent will then ask the court to enforce the Consent Order. The court can then intervene and order money to be taken from the wages of the paying parent, the court can also force that person to sell their belongings to meet the costs. 

Child Maintenance Service (CMS)

If parents cannot come to an agreement CMS can help. You can arrange payments by “direct pay” or using the CMS “Collect and Pay” Service. This might be suitable if there has been a total breakdown of relationships or a general sense of mistrust. If you don’t know where the other parent is, or have contact details for them then the CMS can help track them down. Understandably this process can take longer, and once established there is little flexibility, however, if the alternative is receiving no support – then this is a small compromise to make. For more information you can contact us, we are experts in all aspects of family law and will provide you with first-class legal assistance.