7th March 2024

What is Child Maintenance?

Child maintenance is regular financial support paid by one parent to another to assist with a child’s everyday living expenses. It is ordinarily paid to the primary carer of the child (otherwise known as the resident parent) and is paid on a monthly basis. Both parents should bear the expenses associated with raising their child(ren), even if they do not see them. 

Child maintenance can be arranged privately between parents or through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), a government scheme. Reaching a mutual agreement with your co-parent is the most cost-efficient and practical way to determine the child maintenance to be paid. However, the CMS can resolve disputes over parentage and can determine how much child maintenance needs to be paid if parents are unable to reach an agreement (for a fee).

How to calculate Child Maintenance?

When determining how to calculate child maintenance, the CMS will consider the following factors with regard to the paying party:

  • Their gross annual income (less pension contributions);
  • The number of children the maintenance payments are intended for;
  • The number of additional children for whom the paying party is responsible for; and
  • How often do the children stay with the paying party.

Child Maintenance and who do they apply to?

An application to the CMS can be submitted by either parent. Child maintenance is awarded by the CMS for a child under 16 (or under 20 if they are still in full-time education). It should be mentioned, nonetheless, that the CMS will not award child maintenance in cases involving shared care or where parents are still living together.

Child Maintenance from a Co-parent living abroad

The CMS only deals with parents residing in England or Wales. Therefore, the parent seeking maintenance must contact the Maintenance Enforcement Business Centre (MEBC) to check if they are eligible to register the child maintenance assessment in the country the non-resident parent resides in. Whether you receive child maintenance will depend on whether the non-resident parent resides in a Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Orders (REMO) country.

If the prerequisites are satisfied, they will send you an application form and supporting guidance on how to apply. You may however also need to attend a court hearing in the United Kingdom and pay a court fee.

When can the court make Child Maintenance Orders?

If you and your co-parent are able to agree a child maintenance order by consent as part of your divorce settlement, it is possible to apply to the court to formalise this agreement and obtain a Court order in accordance with its terms. It is also possible for either party to apply to the CMS if they would like to re-visit the amount payable after 12 months from the date of the Order, unless provision is included for this to be prevented.

Furthermore, following the implementation of statutory child maintenance scheme, the court only has jurisdiction to impose orders for child maintenance where:-

  • The parties agree a child maintenance order by consent.
  • The CMS does not have jurisdiction.
  • The order is of a prescribed type, including:
  • Orders for educational expenses;
  • Orders against a person with care;
  • Orders for disability-related costs; and
  • Top-up orders.

Top up Orders

An order for “top-up” maintenance is an order that requires the non-resident parent to make monthly payments in addition to the liability imposed by a CMS maintenance calculation. It does not replace the maintenance calculation.

For the court to be able to make a top-up order, the following must apply:-

  • There must be a maintenance calculation in place with respect to the child.
  • The income of the non-resident parent exceeds the maximum amount assessable under the CMS (currently £156,000 per annum/£3,000 per week gross).
  • The court is satisfied that the facts of the case justify the non-resident parent making the additional payments.

Our team of family lawyers can advise on financial issues arising as a result of separation, including potential maintenance claims and where it is appropriate to apply to the CMS and/or court. We are all members of Resolution, an organisation committed to adopting a non-confrontational approach. If you would like to find out more or arrange a consultation, please do call Antonia Clarke on 01730 268211. Your enquiry will be completely confidential.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.