A Guide to Child Maintenance

Relationship breakdowns are never easy, especially where children are involved. When couples split up, making child maintenance arrangements is one of the most important (but sometimes most contentious) issues to address.

Both resident and non-resident parents are expected to contribute towards the cost of bringing up their children. As the resident parent (the person mainly providing the day to day care of the child) naturally tends to absorb the bulk of the expense, the non-resident parent makes child maintenance payments.

In an ideal world, you and your ex-partner can come to a fair and amicable settlement that ensures your children will be well provided for. Unfortunately, for many reasons, that is sometimes not the case. There are several options to consider when sorting out child maintenance. The route you choose largely depends on your individual circumstances.

Family-based arrangement

When a separation or divorce is amicable, a family-based arrangement is often created. This essentially means you and your former partner make an informal agreement between you. It can cover whatever you mutually decide and is a very flexible option which can be easily amended on an ad hoc basis. The government Child Maintenance Calculator can help you work out costs.

While this can be a very successful way to deal with costs for many parents, a family-based arrangement does have its pitfalls. As a casual agreement, it is not legally binding and depends on both parties being reasonable and amenable for the duration of the arrangement. If you fall out with your ex, you can’t enforce the terms of your agreement.

Should your arrangement fall apart, you could try mediation in the first instance to try and resolve the issue. If that fails, you can apply to the Child Maintenance Service for assistance.

Child Maintenance Service

If your relationship with your former partner has the potential to deteriorate or involves any violence or abuse, an alternative route to take is a formal arrangement via the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). After calculating how much maintenance should be paid, they will then arrange for the non-resident partner to pay the resident parent directly (Direct Pay) or can act as an intermediary and collect the payment themselves for forwarding to the resident parent (Collect and Pay).

Calculating a fair division of costs can be complex and is dependant on a number of factors. To make an assessment, the CMS look at:

  • How custody is shared between the parents
  • The paying parent’s income
  • Factors which impact their income, such as benefits, pensions and support for other children
  • Current child maintenance rates

Child maintenance arrangements made through the CMS are reviewed on an annual basis and are legally binding. Failure to pay can result in payments being taken directly from earnings, bank accounts or benefits, and the enforcement of liability and charging orders is also an option.

While going through the CMS system gives you more legal protection, it should be noted that the arrangements are less flexible than with informal agreements and there is also a charge involved.

Court-ordered arrangement

In certain circumstances, it may be necessary to apply directly to the courts for child maintenance. These include when:

  • There are some expenses involved in your case that the CMS calculation does not cover, such as extra costs for disabled children or private school fees
  • Your former partner resides outside the UK
  • Your former partner earns a very high income and should pay maintenance above the level calculated by the CMS

With a court order in place, the person responsible for child maintenance can be legally compelled to pay.

Get help from the family law experts

We understand that providing for your child whilst dealing with a relationship breakdown can be stressful and complicated. That’s why our friendly family lawyers are here to help you get things sorted out. We can assist you with everything from drawing up a family-based agreement and family mediation, to applying to the courts. With Resolution-trained solicitors on our team and years of experience in dealing with the full range of family law issues, our experts are on hand to help you get life back on track.

If you’d like to discuss a family law matter with us, get in touch with your nearest Rowberry Morris office.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.