The Child Maintenance Service

Reviewed by Mark Lyne, barrister at Five Paper chambers

Young girls sits on a swing looking behind her

If you and your partner cannot agree child maintenance payments between yourselves, the Child Maintenance Service can help. The Child Maintenance Service is the successor to the Child Support Agency

Using the Child Maintenance Service

When possible, parents are encouraged to make their own private arrangements for child maintenance. This is the cheapest and most flexible option. If this is difficult, most parents can get help from the Child Maintenance Service.

If you cannot agree an amount between yourselves, the Child Maintenance Service can help you work out how much child maintenance has to be paid - 'statutory child maintenance'. You continue to make your own arrangements for the payment of the maintenance. There is a £20 fee for this Direct Pay service (unless you are under 19, a victim of domestic violence or live in Northern Ireland).

You may want the Child Maintenance Service to collect payments as well, for example if you have difficulty talking to the other parent or expect to have problems getting paid. As well as the £20 fee, there are extra costs for this Collect and Pay service. The paying parent pays an extra 20% on top of each payment and 4% is deducted from the amount the receiving parent gets.

If you are using Direct Pay or Collect and Pay, the Child Maintenance Service can also take enforcement action to collect any payments that are missed. The paying parent will have to pay additional enforcement charges.

The Child Maintenance Service can also help if there are disputes over whether someone is a child's parent, or if you do not know where your child's other parent is.

To find out more, contact Child Maintenance Options (0800 988 0988). Once the Child Maintenance Service takes on your case, you will be given a new contact number.

When the Child Maintenance Service cannot help

You cannot use the Child Maintenance Service if:

  • you are claiming child maintenance from a high earner, and want the amount of child maintenance to take into account income over £3,000 per week;
  • you want to claim extra child maintenance to cover education costs such as private school or university fees;
  • you want child maintenance that reflects a child's special needs;
  • the other parent lives overseas (though the Child Maintenance Service may be able to help if the other parent is working for a UK employer);
  • you are claiming child maintenance from a step-parent who treated the child as a 'child of the family' (ie as if the child was his or her own);
  • you want to enforce payment of child maintenance covered by a court order made within the last 12 months.

In these circumstances, unless you can reach a private agreement you would need to take court action.

Statutory child maintenance

The Child Maintenance Service has a formula for calculating the amount of maintenance non-resident parents must pay to support children.

Statutory child maintenance is based on the paying parent's gross weekly income (ie before deducting tax or National Insurance contributions) less any pension contributions. The amount of child maintenance also depends on:

  • how many children maintenance is being paid for;
  • how often the children stay overnight with the paying parent;
  • whether the paying parent is also paying maintenance for other children (for example, from a different relationship);
  • whether the paying parent is also supporting other children (typically children living with them that they or their partner get child benefit for).

For a weekly income of between £200 and £800, child maintenance is based on 12% of weekly income for one child, 16% for two or 19% for three or more. But the amount is reduced if the paying parent looks after the children for at least one night a week, or is also supporting other children.

The full calculation is complicated. You can use the child maintenance calculator to get an idea of how much statutory child maintenance is likely to be. Some parents use this as a guide for agreeing child maintenance between themselves.

Changing statutory child maintenance

The paying parent may be able to have the child maintenance they pay reduced to take any special expenses into account. Special expenses can include the costs of keeping in touch with the children, looking after a disabled child, or contributing to the mortgage on the house your children live in (provided you no longer own a share in that house).

The receiving parent can apply for the income used to work out child maintenance to be increased if there is other income that hasn't been included. This might apply if the paying parent has income from savings and investments, or is diverting income (eg by keeping profits within a company they own or getting employment benefits like a company car).

If you think you have reason to apply for a variation, you should contact the Child Maintenance Service.

Statutory child maintenance can also be affected by a change in circumstances; for example, if the paying parent's income changes or if the receiving parent remarries. The Child Maintenance Service also carries out an annual review to check the information they have and see if the amount of statutory child maintenance needs to change.

The Child Support Agency - old cases

The Child Support Agency is still handling some cases set up before December 2013, but is no longer taking on new cases. Arrangements made through the Child Support Agency where phased out in 2017.

If your child maintenance is handled by the Child Support Agency, you will need to reach a new agreement with your former partner, either between yourselves or using the Child Maintenance Service.

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