A Guide to Child Maintenance – Your Options
If you have separated from the person you have children with, you're both going to start thinking about how you will share the costs of raising your children going forward. The type of child maintenance you arrange with the non-resident or shared resident parent can be either an informal family arrangement or a statutory arrangement through the Child Maintenance Service.
Our Family Law team receive many questions about child maintenance whilst supporting families going through divorce and separation. To make things easier for you, we're looking at your available options and their suitability in different circumstances. Jenine Abdo, our Family Solicitor and Children's Law specialist based in Cardiff, explains:
What is Child Maintenance?
Parents are legally obliged to provide financial support for their children. If one parent is non-resident or only has contact with the child part time they must contribute to the child's upbringing by way of child maintenance to the other parent. Some families choose to share residence 50/50
, which in certain circumstances means maintenance doesn't need to be paid.
Child maintenance can be arranged in a number of ways and it doesn't necessarily have to be monthly cash payments. It can be anything that contributes to the upbringing of the child, such as food or clothes. The arrangement you reach will depend entirely on your individual needs and circumstances.
When Does Child Maintenance Need to be Paid?
The obligation to contribute towards child maintenance stands regardless of whether or not you have any contact with the child. This applies with regards to children that are:
- Under the age of 16
- Under 20 and in full-time education (but no higher than A level), or
- Under 20 and living with a parent that receives Child Benefit
Informal Family Agreements
A family based child maintenance arrangement, also called a voluntary maintenance agreement
can be a good place to start. This type of arrangement can be favoured because it is free, you don't need to satisfy any rules, and the result depends entirely on what you agree.
Your agreement will need to include the following:
- How much maintenance will be paid (the Child Maintenance Service calculator can give you a rough idea)
- What will be given (e.g. money or things like school clothes)
- When payments will be made and reviewed.
Family based arrangements can be a trouble free solution for many families, but for lots of people this isn't a viable option. They rely on parties being able to work together in reaching an agreement and in sticking to it. This won't be appropriate if you aren't able to co-operate with the other parent or if there is a history of violence or abuse.
The Child Maintenance Service
If you aren't able to agree, you will need to use the Child Maintenance Service (CMS)
. This creates a statutory arrangement between both parents and involves paying the Child Maintenance Service a fee to handle calculating and collecting child maintenance on your behalf. They can also step in if the other parent won't pay, and you could even receive compensation if the Child Maintenance Service makes a mistake or causes delays.
The amount received is dependable on earnings, the number of children and contact arrangements. You can get a rough idea of how much you may receive or need to pay by using the Child Maintenance Service calculator on their website
. The process can be baffling to begin with, so we have also created a helpful step by step guide to child maintenance
Although the Child Maintenance Service was brought in to resolve the chaos caused by the Child Support Agency, it appears it hasn't been entirely trouble free. It has recently been revealed that £35 million of arrears are owed to children, which shows that the system for non-payment simply isn't working.
There are also still difficult and limited recourses available if one parent professes to be working X number of hours but the parent seeking maintenance states that they aren't being honest.
Simpson Millar's Family Law Team
Our Family Law solicitors support families and individuals with a range of financial and children issues. Because of this, we are asked very frequently to provide legal advice on the issue of child maintenance. Unfortunately, with regards to child maintenance we can only advise you on the resources that may be helpful in forming your own family arrangement or statutory arrangements.