Ensuring a fair and effective child maintenance arrangement
Child maintenance is a regular, agreed sum of money provided to help meet the day to day costs of looking after your child. It covers items such as clothing and food. If you are able to agree the amount, it is not normally necessary for the courts or the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to become involved.
The CMS is the body responsible for calculating and collecting child maintenance. The underlying aim of the CMS is to encourage parents to work collaboratively and to agree on maintenance arrangements using a Family-Based Arrangement (a voluntary arrangement), rather than resorting to using the statutory framework for calculating child maintenance. They will be able to help you with all matters involving child maintenance, including:
- locating and liaising with the other parent
- calculating and arranging the maintenance payment
- making amendments if circumstances change
- taking action if payments are not made.
In order to help you understand your options, we have outlined the different ways of reaching a financial settlement below:
These are child maintenance arrangements that you, as parents, agree directly and voluntarily. You will need to work out exactly what your child needs on a day to day basis and decide how you will share the cost. It is helpful to put your agreement in writing but this does not make it legally binding. If the agreed payments are not made you will not be able to enforce the agreement through the court. If you are the paying parent it is also recommended that you make payments by standing order or by bank transfer so they can be seen on your bank statements and provide evidence that payments have been made in order to prevent any future allegations of non-payment.
Help from the Child Maintenance Service
If you cannot agree to a family-based arrangement, or if the agreement breaks down, then an application can be made to the Child Maintenance Service for a statutory child maintenance calculation.
The CMS will then decide how much the absent parent should pay to the receiving parent based on a standard formula, and can also collect and pass on payments if required. They base their decision on the gross (before tax) weekly income of the absent parent for the previous tax year. Once this figure is known, the maintenance calculation can then be carried out.
The CMS will look at the paying parent’s circumstances when calculating child maintenance. It understands that no two situations are the same. For example, if your child regularly spends one night or more a week staying with the parent who is paying maintenance then payment reductions are available. Also, if there are other children living with the paying parent, the paying parent will be entitled to have this taken into account, when the CMS decides how much they have to pay. More information on the process is available via the government’s child maintenance calculator (link to website).
If you ask the CMS to make a child maintenance calculation, certain fees will apply. You will also have to pay additional costs if the CMS is responsible for collecting and paying the maintenance payments, rather than payments being made directly to the receiving parent. We encourage parents to reach a family-based arrangement, as these fees can be quite significant.