What is child maintenance?

Suppose you have a child, and you break up with your partner. The parent who no longer lives with the child must continue making regular payments to the child’s costs after separation. These periodic payments are known as child maintenance, and the aim is to ensure there is financial support for the child’s everyday needs.

You won’t be eligible to pay child maintenance if you are:

  • Sharing care equally with another partner
  • A full-time student with no income 
  • In prison

What does child maintenance cover?

Child maintenance can pay for several everyday needs for your child or children that live with the other biological parent. Examples include:

  • Housing costs
  • Clothing including shoes and seasonal items
  • Essential foods
  • Education
  • In some cases, extra-curricular activities such as after-school classes and additional academic tuition

In some cases, the parent who has the children or child living with them will provide receipts to justify the children’s expenses.

How much is child maintenance?

The amount of child maintenance to be paid will depend predominantly on the parents yearly income and how many children require maintenance.

Commonly, when it comes to calculating maintenance, there are six steps:

  1. Working out the income of the paying parent.
  2. Looking at the variables that affect the maintenance, such as the number of children.
  3. Considering the maintenance rates.
  4. Considering how many other children the paying parent already pays for.
  5. Calculating the appropriate weekly amount of maintenance when considering the previous four steps.
  6. Calculating the shared care, which takes into consideration how many days the child stays overnight with the paying parent.

Maintenance costs based on weekly pay:

Gross weekly income Rate Amount to pay
Below £7 Nil N/A
£100 or less, or if the parent gets benefits. Flat £7
£100.01 – £199.99 Reduced Calculate
£200 – £800 Basic Calculate
£800.01 – £3,000 Basic Plus Calculate

If your weekly income is over £3,000, it’s advised that you should apply to the courts for a child maintenance ‘top-up’ order.

Parent who applied for child maintenance

How do I apply for child maintenance?

When it comes to the application, you have four options. 

Four application options:

1. Making arrangements yourself: This is the most cost-effective form of reaching an agreement over child maintenance as you make a direct informal arrangement with the other parent. However, it’s essential to know that an informal arrangement is not legally binding.

2. During a divorce or ending of civil partnership: If you’re going through a divorce or ending a civil partnership, you can deal with child maintenance during the child arrangement proceedings. In this instance, the maintenance agreement will be legally binding.

3. Arrangements through a government scheme: If you don’t want to come to a private arrangement, you can apply through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). The contact number for CMS is 0800 953 0191. However, to enforce arrangements made by the CMS, it will cost more money to enforce maintenance payments.

4. Arranging maintenance through the courts: The final option is to apply to the courts formally. Applying for child maintenance through the courts is legally binding. Some of the most common reasons for applying formally through the court is if:

  • If you want to include maintenance for stepchildren
  • The parent paying maintenance lives outside the UK.
  • The parent paying maintenance is earning more than £3,000 + a week. 
  • If you want additional payments to help with your child’s disability or help fund your child through further education.

When does child maintenance stop?

In most circumstances, maintenance payments will continue until your child or children reach the age of 16. However, in some cases, payments can continue until the child reaches 20 years of age if they’re in school or college full time doing:

  • A-levels
  • Higher level-education or 
  • Equivalent

However, child maintenance can end early. For example, if one parent dies or the child suddenly becomes illegible.

One of Britton and Times family solicitors working on a child maintenance case