Many are unsure as to what child maintenance covers; it is defined by the government as being the ‘financial support towards your child’s everyday living costs when you’ve separated from the other parent’. Should you have a good relationship with the other parent, you may be able to privately agree a ‘family-based arrangement’ between yourselves. If this is not possible, you will need to get the Child Maintenance Service involved, formerly known as the Child Support Agency.

If you have a shared parenting arrangement (the child spends the same number of nights with each parent), neither of you is obliged to pay child maintenance, even if one parent has a higher income or fewer outgoings. The process of figuring out who pays child maintenance when you share custody is another topic we have discussed here on our blog.

What does child maintenance cover?

At its simplest, child maintenance is about providing your child with the food, clothes and home that they need to thrive and enjoy the best possible start in life.

Ultimately, it is up to the parent with primary care responsibilities as to how the money is spent. Child support is the legal minimum that a parent must contribute to the upbringing of their child, although they can certainly pay more should they wish. There are four grounds to apply for variation of child maintenance payments which are:

  • Assets over £65,000
  • Income not taken into account
  • Diversion of income
  • Lifestyle inconsistent with declared income

You can read more about this on our blog ‘How To Vary Child Maintenance Payments‘.

Child maintenance covers a child under the age of 16, and those aged 16-19 who are in full-time education and have never been married or in a civil partnership.

What does child maintenance not cover?

As part of any child maintenance obligations under Child Maintenance Service rules, a parent is not expected to financially support any step-children. Nor are they obliged to contribute to private school fees. If these are a concern, the Court can intervene separately if a Court application is made by a parent as those decisions will not fall under the umbrella of child maintenance. When there are financial constraints, child maintenance will always be prioritised over school fees.

How is child maintenance calculated?

When a family based-agreement cannot be reached, it is up to the Child Maintenance Service to determine the size of payment. They do so by following a set method and mathematical formula.

HMRC will provide the Child Maintenance Service with the paying parent’s gross income and establish whether or not they are receiving any benefits. Any pension scheme payments are also taken into account. Additional considerations include whether or not the paying parent needs to financially support any other children, and how many nights the child is expected to spend with them. This information then affects the rate applied to give the final payment. This assessed child maintenance figure is broken down into a weekly amount.

Should the paying parent’s gross income exceed £156,000, the Court can order additional child maintenance to be paid in accordance with the child’s needs.

Online calculators are available which use the CMS methodology to provide you with a rough indication of the required amount of child maintenance.

What is the Child Maintenance Service?

The Child Maintenance Service is a government agency who oversees the payment of child maintenance, assessing how much an individual needs to pay and enforcing that decision if they don’t meet their payments. They review the agreed level of payment on an annual basis and whenever they’re notified about a change in the paying parent’s circumstances. The Child Maintenance Service can also assist you with locating an absent parent and has procedures in place where parentage is disputed.