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A guide to child maintenance

Child Maintenance is payments from one parent to another in the event of separation, which cover the everyday living costs of your child. These payments are given to whichever parent is the primary carer, whether this has been decided by you or by the courts. The parent who is not the primary carer therefore pays for things such as clothes, food and a roof over the child’s head. 

You may wish to decide between yourselves how much shall be paid, or whether you will split the costs of everything as part of a family-based Child Maintenance agreement. If you disagree, you can go through the Child Maintenance Service who will be able to calculate how much the secondary carer shall have to pay. In some circumstances, the courts may get involved. 

Whichever way you choose, it is important that as parents you work together to reach an agreement that is best suited to your child. 

Why is Child Maintenance important?

When parents separate both are expected to continue paying for their child until they are at least 16, or until they are 20 if they are in full-time education. See our Guide to Separating with Children.

Depending on the circumstances of the break-up, you may not wish to discuss Child Maintenance with your partner. However, these payments are beneficial to your child, as they help them pay for essentials such as food and clothing. Not only that, but it also means that both parents can continue to be involved in their children’s lives. 

Whichever way you choose to reach an agreement on payments, it is important to bear in mind that it is a legal responsibility to pay Child Maintenance. 

Common misconceptions about Child Maintenance
  • Myth: Child Maintenance is used to punish absent parents
    Truth: The phrase ‘absent partner’ (usually used in the sense of ‘absent father’) is often thrown around in relation to Child Maintenance, it is important that Child Maintenance is not used for revenge for one parent not being around. Many parents are able to sort payments out between themselves and for those who can’t, the majority recognise their responsibility as parents to pay for their child’s upkeep. 
  • Myth: Child Maintenance is a state benefit
    Truth: Child Maintenance payments are not the same thing as child benefit payments, as they are paid by the parents not the State. 

How to arrange Child Maintenance payments

There are four options of how Child Maintenance may be paid:

  1. Family-based arrangement: This is arranged between you and your ex-partner. This allows you to work out between yourselves how it shall be paid, e.g. a fixed amount or varying, depending on the needs of the child throughout the year.
  2. Direct pay: You may wish to decide between you how Child Maintenance shall be paid, but be unsure of how much to pay, in this case the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) decides how much. The money is then paid to you directly from the other parent. 
  3. Collect and pay: If you are not on good terms, this option means that the CMS calculates the amount that should be paid, and acts as the middle-man between you. They pass the money from one parent to the other without the need for interaction between you.
  4. Court-ordered arrangement: Under limited circumstances it may be possible to apply direct to the courts in order to sort Child Maintenance. These circumstances include:
    -   Where the paying parent earns more than £156,000 a year
    -   Where the paying parent lives abroad
    -   Where arrangements need to be made for payment of private school fees
    -   Where stepchildren or disabled children are involved

How much Child Maintenance will you have to pay?

If you wish for the CMS to decide how much the paying parent shall provide, then these calculations will be based on a number of factors: 
  • The number of children you have
  • Whether the paying parent already provides Child Maintenance for other children
  • How much the paying parent earns
  • The percentage of time the children spend with each parent 
The government has a handy calculator which helps you work out how much you will need to pay, depending on the above factors. Additionally, Citizens Advice provide a full guide on how these factors are calculated
Child Maintenance is paid until the child turns 16, unless they continue into full-time education, in which case it is paid until they are 20 or they leave full-time education (whichever comes first). 


First4Lawyers are here to help if your circumstances require you to go to court. We understand it can be a testing process, but we will make it as easy as possible for you along the way. Contact us for an informal chat about your particular circumstances.

Note: First4Lawyers offers this information as guidance, not advice. Before taking any action, you should seek professional assistance tailored to your personal circumstances and not rely on First4Lawyers’ online information alone.

Last updated:  November 2017