Child Maintenance here means regular (which might mean each
week, month or year) financial support paid by one parent to the
other to contribute to a child's everyday living costs. There are
also other types of financial provision that a parent can be
required to make for their child's benefit.
There are several ways that parents may resolve questions about
payment of child maintenance.
Option 1: Private
If parents are able to agree on the level and frequency of child
maintenance, then they can record this in a written document.
The document does not have to be especially detailed and there is
no magic form of words. The agreement does not have to be
registered with the Child Maintenance Service
(CMS) or any other organisation.
A child maintenance agreement is useful in situations where both
parents trust one another and are prepared to be honest about their
However, a private agreement is not legally binding. That
is, if one party changes their mind, they will not be held to the
terms of the agreement.
If one parent decides to ignore the agreement, it would be
necessary to consider dealing with child maintenance issues under
Options 2 to 4, below.
This is an option only as part of
a divorce or dissolution.
A court agreement is very similar to Option 1. The difference is
that the parents' agreement is recorded and approved by the court
in the form of an order. Unlike a private agreement, a court
agreement is legally binding. It remains binding for at least
After a year, if either parent wishes to change the terms of the
court agreement, and that change is not agreed, either may apply to
Most parents will be able to - and will have to - approach the CMS
to resolve disagreements about child maintenance. See Option
4 for situations where the CMS cannot become
The CMS scheme works by identifying which of a child's parents
has day-to-day care. It does this by looking at the time the
child spends with each parent. If the child's time is divided
equally between parents, the CMS treats the parent who receives
Child Benefit as the parent with day-to-day care. The other
parent is called the Non-Resident Parent (NRP) by the CMS
Once the NRP has been identified, the CMS applies a formula to
the NRP's net income to calculate the child maintenance obligation
(the maintenance liability).
The CMS does not take into account
the income (or the assets and other financial resources) of the
parent with day-to-day care in deciding the NRP's maintenance
Net income is calculated by subtracting tax and
National Insurance payments and pension contributions from gross
Gross income includes any bonus, commission or
overtime payments. It also includes receipts from any pension
scheme, tax credits, employment credits and disabled person's tax
credits. Gross income excludes investment income, State
Benefits, student grants and loans.
The CMS obtains details of the NRP's gross income direct from
Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs Office.
The NRP's maintenance liability depends on his or her
circumstances and net weekly income. There are formulae for
determining, based on these factors, how much a NRP should pay.
As a general rule, the maintenance liability is a percentage of
the NRP's gross income depending on the number of children being
maintained. Where the NRP's gross income is between £200 and
£800, he or she will pay:
In addition, the NRP will pay a further amount if his or her
gross income is more than £801, as follows:
There is an upper limit on the NRP's income that the CMS can
consider when it calculates the maintenance liability. The
upper limit on annual gross income is £156,000. So, the
highest maintenance liability the CMS could impose against a NRP -
with three or more children - is about £480 each week.
The CMS's online
calculator can give a rough-and-ready estimate of the NRP's
maintenance liability based upon the family's
These formulae were introduced quite recently, and will apply to
new CMS applications made after December 2012. Earlier cases
operate through the Child Support Agency (CSA)on a
different formula that targets net, rather than gross,
income. The current estimate is that all cases will be
transferred across to these new formulae by 2017.
There are also plans to introduce fees payable by both parents -
an application fee and a collection fee - for calculating,
collecting and paying out child maintenance. The collection
fee may affect how much parents will pay and receive.
The NRP's net income is reduced when calculating maintenance
liability if there are other children living in their home.
The NRP's maintenance liability might be reduced depending on how
often the child or children for whom maintenance is paid stay with
Either the parent with day-to-day care or the NRP can ask the
CMS to take into account additional information or
circumstances. This is called a variation
application. A variation application is appropriate where
the standard formulae do not to do justice to the case. A
variation application may be made by telephoning the CMS or writing
The categories of variation application that might reduce
maintenance liability are if:
The categories of variation application that might increase
maintenance liability are if:
There is an appeal system within the CMS if either parent
believes the maintenance liability calculation is wrong, or a
variation application has not been dealt with properly.
There are some situations where the CMS will not be able to
assist. These include the following:
In these situations, the court retains the ability to look at
what level of regular financial support by the NRP is
appropriate. The court will be guided by, but not bound by,
the CMS formulae.
Examples of how we can help
PO Box 55
National helpline: 08457 133 133
Fax: 08457 138 924
Textphone: 08457 138 924
Child Maintenance Options
Tel: 0800 0834 375
follow us on: