Child maintenance FAQs

Which children are covered by child maintenance?

Child Support law through the CMS governs the level of child maintenance that should be paid by a parent who is not resident in the child's household, to the parent with main day-to-day care of the child. There are different options available for sorting child maintenance depending on factors like age, whether the child has disabilities etc.

For child maintenance administered by the CMS, a child is anyone under 16 or someone between 16 and 20 who:

  • is not, nor has ever been, married or in a civil partnership, and
  • is in full-time non-advanced education.

(However, in certain circumstances, someone under 20 can still be regarded as a child for child maintenance purposes by the CMS even if they are not in full-time non-advanced education.)

Outside of the age ranges and educational requirements of the CMS, you would have to apply to the courts for child maintenance. See how the courts can help.

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Do I have to use the CMS to manage child maintenance?

No. There are several options for arranging child maintenance.

Child Maintenance Options can provide more information on the different choices available to you or you could talk through your options with a lawyer.

Either parent may apply to the CMS for an assessment if they wish to, as long as there is no Court Order less than a year old regulating payments. You may prefer to agree a figure for child maintenance in a private agreement that is based on the CMS calculation. Child Maintenance Options can help you with this. Sometimes you can apply even if there is an order (when the order was made after 3 March 2003 and is over a year old).

You can get an idea of what this figure might be using the Child Maintenance Options calculator, although there may be other factors that would alter the maintenance the CMS would calculate.

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If child maintenance has been agreed, does the CMS have to be involved?

The CMS will only become involved at the request of a parent, and only as long as there is no Court Order in force already regulating payment. If you have arranged child maintenance through a private agreement, the CMS and the courts will not usually become involved, unless one of the parents thinks things need to be looked at again.

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How do I set up a child maintenance agreement?

Parents can set up a child maintenance arrangement between themselves, through a private agreement.

You don’t have to involve anyone else in setting up a private agreement, but you are likely to know your rights. Child Maintenance Options will give impartial information for free. Many circumstances are complex though, and you will want to take specialist legal advice from a Resolution member to fully understand your options before entering into any arrangement.

Depending on how the agreement is reached and put together, it may not be legally binding.  If an agreement is not legally binding then it cannot be enforced.  This may suit you if your circumstances would benefit from added flexibility to manage the arrangements based on the circumstances at the time. 

If you think a private agreement will not work for you, you may be able apply to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). The CMS can accept applications from:

  • either parent
  • other people caring for qualifying children

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How much child maintenance should be paid?

With a private arrangement, you and the other parent can agree between yourselves how much child maintenance should be paid, and how often. A private agreement would allow for a broader set of arrangements which might include other things such as holidays, activity costs etc.

You can get an idea of what your payments might be, using the Child Maintenance Options calculator. You could use this figure as a starting point for a private agreement, it’s a rough and ready way of meeting children's basic needs but you might also want to factor in ways of paying for other things that you'd like your child to be able to enjoy, music or sports lessons for example.

If you cannot agree on an amount, the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) can calculate a child maintenance amount for you. You may then wish to use Direct Pay.

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What is Direct Pay?

Direct Pay is where the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) perform the calculation of maintenance and the payments are then made direct between the parents, rather than collected and distributed by the CMS.  With the introduction of charges, Direct Pay will be a way to avoid those additional fees. 

When you take your arrangement outside of the statutory CMS system, by either a private arrangement or by using Direct Pay for example, do make sure to close your CMS case to avoid a record of arrears from building up.

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What child maintenance payments can a court order?

The court still retains its powers to make orders for

  • the payment of school fees
  • child maintenance for step children or disabled children
  • child maintenance for those who are in further education and certain other specific situations
  • children whose non-resident parent lives overseas

It can also order that capital sums be paid for children, or that property must be made available for them, in certain circumstances. This is quite separate to any capital payment or maintenance that might be arranged between the couple.

If any of these factors apply to you, it’s probably a good idea to talk it through with a lawyer.

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How does the Child Maintenance Service calculate child maintenance?

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) calculates an amount using rules set out by Child Support law. This amount is based on:

  • the gross income of the paying parent, and
  • the number of qualifying children the paying parent lives apart from.

You can get an idea of what your payments might be, using the Child Maintenance Options calculator. You could also use this figure as a starting point for a private agreement.

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The CMS have messed up my claim. What can I do about it?

It might be that you have a claim for compensation. In the first instance though you will need to raise your problem with the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) and give them a chance to put it right.

If that doesn't work you will then need to make a formal complaint to the complaints service at the CMS.

If the complaints service doesn't resolve matters you can ask the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) to take a look at your case. You can find out more about this on the CMS website or the website of ICE.

You will need to follow each of these steps in turn. If at the end of the process you are still in a position where you have suffered financial loss as a result of the agency's failures it may be possible to pursue a claim for compensation through the courts and we would recommend you discuss your options with a lawyer. The 'Special Payments Guide' is the CMS's own guidance on whether financial compensation should be paid to clients and, if so, how much is appropriate. Copies of the 'Special Payments Guide' are available here

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I do not agree with the calculation, what should I do?

If when you receive notice of the amount of maintenance to be paid, you do not agree the calculation because you think the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) have made a mistake, you must request a “Mandatory Reconsideration” of the calculation.  You must explain why you think the calculation is wrong.  For more information on the calculation challenge process click here.

If you think that a maintenance calculation has failed to take certain factors into account that would increase or decrease the calculation, then you may be able to request a “variation” of the calculation.

If your circumstances have changed then you should contact the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) as your circumstances may require a “supersession” or adjustment of the maintenance calculation.

The regulations in these areas can be complex and are strict in terms of timings.  For more information on reconsiderations and appeals, variation or supersession you should seek specialist advice from a Resolution lawyer.

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What happened to the Child Support Agency (CSA)?

The Child Support Agency (CSA) still administers existing cases in the previous system for child support, based on the paying parent’s net income (income after tax and National Insurance).  The CSA is no longer accepting new applications for maintenance. All new applications are dealt with by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) with a new formula based on the paying parent’s gross income. 

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I have a CSA case, what will happen to it?

The Child Support Agency (CSA) will begin the process of closing their remaining cases very soon.  The aim is for the CSA to close all of their remaining cases by 2017. If you have a maintenance case with the CSA you will receive a letter informing you you’re your case will be closed.  You will need to make an alternative arrangement and the options include a private agreement with the other parent or application to the new Child Maintenance Service (CMS) for a maintenance calculation. You may then be able to choose Direct Pay rather than the CMS collecting maintenance for you.

If you have any questions or want to fully understand the options when you receive your letter from CSA, then contact a Resolution lawyer in your area.

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I have arrears in a CSA case, what will happen to it?

Any arrears of existing Child Support Agency (CSA) cases will be transferred across to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).  You will receive a letter from the Child Support Agency (CSA) informing you about your case and what will happen to it.  

If you have any questions or want to fully understand the options when you receive your letter from CSA, then contact a Resolution lawyer in your area.

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I have received a letter from the CSA, what should I do?

Only arrears will be automatically transferred across to the new Child Maintenance Service (CMS).  All other existing Child Support Agency (CSA) cases will be closed. 

You will need to make an alternative arrangement to continue to receive maintenance. The options include a private agreement with the other parent or application to the new Child Maintenance Service (CMS) for a maintenance calculation. You may then be able to choose Direct Pay rather than the CMS collecting maintenance for you.

If you have any questions or want to fully understand the options when you receive your letter from CSA, contact a Resolution lawyer in your area.

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What are the child maintenance charges?

Since June 2014 the CMS requires a fee of £20 to apply for a calculation and since August 2014 has also charged to collect maintenance from the paying parent and pay it to the receiving parent as follows:-

  • The paying parent will pay an additional 20% on top of the maintenance they need to pay; and
  • The receiving parent will pay 4% from the maintenance they receive.

For example, if the maintenance to be paid is £100 per week, then the paying parent will pay £120 a week and the receiving parent will get £96 per week.

Charges will not apply if you use the Direct Pay option.

The CMS may require the collection service to be used (and its charges) where the paying parent is thought to be unlikely to pay using Direct Pay. 

If you are already in the statutory scheme, you will be notified of the implementation of charges and, if you are not already using Direct Pay, you will be asked if you want to use that option.

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What are the changes to child maintenance regarding shared care?

Where the parents share the care of their children a reduction in the amount of maintenance to be paid may apply.  There are two ways these rules have changed:-

The first is where there is no agreement about the amount of care each parent provides, the CMS will assume that the parent who provides care to the lesser extent has the child/children with them 1 night a week on average and will apply a 1/7th reduction to the maintenance to be paid.

The second change is where there is exactly equal care of the child/children between the parents.  In this situation there will be no maintenance to be paid. 

If you have any questions about these changes or want to fully understand your options contact a Resolution lawyer in your area.

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What are the changes to the grounds for challenging a child maintenance calculation?

The new rules have made it less likely for a calculation to be challenged in two major ways:-

The first is that there are fewer grounds to request a variation of a calculation to increase child maintenance.  The only grounds for an upwards variation are that there is income which has not been taken into account or that the paying parent has income which they are diverting away from themselves. 

It is no longer possible to review a calculation or request a variation based on the paying parent’s lifestyle (which may seem better than their apparent income) or their assets (which may previously have been used to increase the income used in the calculation). 

The second regulation change which has made it harder to challenge a maintenance calculation is that only if the paying parent's income has changed by more than 25% (higher or lower) will the CMS reconsider the case. Otherwise the maintenance calculation will remain in place until the review which is intended to take place each anniversary after the award was made, if the case is still open.

If you have any questions about these changes or want to fully understand your options contact a Resolution lawyer in your area.

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I am a victim of abuse by the other parent, how can CMS help me?

The Child Maintenance Service realise that where there has been abuse or violence between parents, it will be too difficult to make your own arrangements or have any contact with the other parent.  So, if you tell the CMS that these are your circumstances, they will do what they can to assist you to get maintenance as soon as possible, you may not have to pay the application fee and they will keep your details completely confidentiality.  

If you have any questions or want to fully understand your options contact a Resolution lawyer in your area.