Child Maintenance Solicitors

A Guide to Child Maintenance

Our specialist child maintenance solicitors can help you through a difficult separation where you will need to consider how much the other parent should contribute to the care and upbringing of your child.

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If you are a parent going through a separation, then you will need to consider the arrangements for your child such as who they will live with and how much time they will spend with the other parent. You may decide to share the care or the child may live with one parent and spend time with the other. In that later scenario you will need to consider how much the other parent should contribute to their care and upbringing. On this page, we explain the rules about child maintenance and how solicitors can help you get the best possible outcome for your children.

What is child maintenance?

Child maintenance is a regular payment made by one parent to cover the child/ren’s everyday living costs.. This can includes things like food, clothes and housing. It can also cover expenses like childcare and extra-curricular activities.

Who is entitled to child maintenance?

Child maintenance is paid by the parent who does not have responsibility for the day-to-day care of the child (also referred to as the non-resident parent) to the parent who does. In situations where the child is looked after by someone other than their parents, the child maintenance can be paid to a grandparent, relative or guardian. Child maintenance is not payable if there is an equal, shared care arrangement between the parents.

How much child maintenance should be paid?

There is no set amount of child maintenance that must be paid. It depends on how much money the paying parent earns as well as how many children they have, whether they are paying maintenance for other children, and the amount of time the child spends with them.

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) uses a statutory formula to calculate child maintenance payments based on the non-resident parent’s gross weekly income. There are allowances and set rates if the non-resident parent earns under £200 gross per week.

Where a parent earns over £200 per week gross, the calculation is as follows:

  • 12% of gross weekly income for one child
  • 16% of gross weekly income for two children
  • 19% of gross weekly income for three or more children

However, if the non-resident parent earns over £41,600 gross per year, then the first £800 in weekly gross income is calculated as above and the remainder is calculated as follows:

  • 9% of gross weekly income for one child
  • 12% of gross weekly income for two children
  • 15% of gross weekly income for three or more children

Then the two are added together. You can use the calculator on the government’s website to get an estimate of how much child maintenance should be paid under the standard formula.

However, it’s important to understand that the CMS formula is only the starting point. Parents are free to make their own arrangements which do not have to follow the formula. This is known as a family-based arrangement.

How long is child maintenance paid for?

Child maintenance is usually paid until the child reaches the age of 16, or up to 20 if they are still in full-time education. It may be paid for longer if the child has a disability.

Other factors can also impact if a child maintenance payment should stop or the amount should change. For example, it’s possible to adjust the payments if the receiving parent stops being the primary carer or if there is a change in the financial circumstances of the paying parent.

How do I make a family-based arrangement?

A family-based arrangement is a private agreement between the parents that sets out how much child maintenance will be paid and when it will be paid. As it is a private arrangement between the parents you don’t need to involve Solicitors or the CMS, however you can agree to record your intention in a Separation Agreement if you wish which can be drafted by a Solicitor.

The advantage of making a family-based arrangement is that it can be tailored to the specific needs of the family. For example, it can take into account the income of both parents and any other financial commitments they have. You can also agree to pay in excess of the child maintenance calculation.

It can also be flexible about when payments are made and to whom they are paid. While child maintenance is normally paid to the primary caregiver, you may decide to make the payments directly to an older child who is in full-time education, for example.

Is a family-based arrangement legally binding?

No, a family-based arrangement is a private arrangement that does not involve the courts or the CMS.

What if we cannot agree on the amount of child maintenance?

Mediation can help parents try to agree a fair level of child maintenance. This is where an impartial third party will try to assist you and the other parent in reaching an agreement. At Osbornes we have a number of specially trained mediators who can assist.

If mediation is unsuccessful, then you can ask the Child Maintenance Service to assist. CMS can work out an amount of child maintenance that is legally enforceable using the statutory formula. They can also support you by collecting the payments from the paying parent and passing them onto the parent with care, although there is a fee for this.

Can you apply to the court for child maintenance?

In most instances, it is not possible to apply to the court for child maintenance. Instead, child maintenance should be agreed through a private arrangement or through the Child Maintenance Service. However, if you are getting divorced and have reached an agreement regarding the amount of child maintenance you can record this in your Financial Consent Order. However, please be aware that the Court only has jurisdiction to enforce child maintenance for 12 months, after that date the CMS has jurisdiction and you will not be able to enforce the child maintenance through the Court. You will have to make an application to the CMS.

You can apply to the court for a ‘top-up order’ if the paying parent is a high earner (over £156,000 gross per year) or if the child has additional needs due to a disability, among other things. This means you will receive additional payments on top of the payments calculated by the CMS. However, the CMS will need to have made an assessment first.

A family lawyer can advise you on whether a court application is the best option for your family and can help you with the process of applying for one.

What if the paying parent doesn’t pay?

If the paying parent does not make the agreed payments, then you may contact the CMS. The CMS has various powers to administer child maintenance payments, including the power to ‘Collect and Pay’ where the CMS collects the monthly payments from the paying parent and passes them to the receiving parent. The CMS also has the power to collect a lump sum for any back payments that are owed (only when a CMS application has been made).

Can I appeal or challenge the CMS’ decision?

If you do not believe the calculation is correct you can appeal but first, you must ask for mandatory reconsideration which is where the CMS reconsider the calculation. If you still wish to challenge it, you can apply to the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal within one month. You can apply out of time but you will need to give your reasons for doing so.

The family team at Osbornes are expert in child maintenance cases. We can advise you on the best course of action for your family and help you to reach a fair and legally binding agreement. To learn more, please get in touch and we will be happy to help with anything you need.

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