How to Arrange Child Maintenance Payments

Author:
James Skinner
Associate Solicitor, Family Law and Divorce
Date:
31/01/2020

When parents split up, whether because of divorce or relationship breakdown, they still have to agree how they will both support their children financially. This is usually by agreeing a figure for child maintenance.

Usually, one parent will pay the child support and the other will receive it, unless care is shared equally between the two.

You have three options available to you to arrange child maintenance payments. They are:

  • Making an informal arrangement, sometimes known as a Family Based Arrangement
  • Using a Government Agency
  • Getting a Court Order

There are certain restrictions when applying for each of these options, so we explain them individually:

Child Maintenance Payments Agreed Informally

You and your former partner should try to come to an agreement about the financial side of caring for your children before exploring other options. But we know this can be difficult, particularly if the separation was acrimonious.

There are tools you can use to help you calculate how much child maintenance should be paid. You can use the child maintenance payments calculator on gov.uk website which also provides a draft agreement for you both to sign, but this agreement isn’t enforceable.

You could also arrange mediation, which could help you both to work through any issues in the way of reaching an agreement. You will have to pay for mediation, unless you are on a low income and are eligible for Legal Aid.

Agreeing child maintenance payments informally with your former partner is the cheapest and easiest way to make these arrangements, but you should note that any informal arrangement made, even those agreed in mediation are completely non-enforceable. The agreement can be broken at any time, without any sanctions.

Consent Order

You should know that these informal arrangements can form part of a Consent Order when getting a divorce. A Consent Order can cover lots of issues, including who the children will live with, the financial issues in your divorce and even child maintenance. When a Consent Order is issued by the Court, it’s legally binding and enforceable in England and Wales. This means that if either you or your former partner does not keep to the terms of the Consent Order, the Court can make them.

Using a Government Agency

If you have made an informal agreement with your former partner on child maintenance but they are not keeping to the agreement or you can’t reach an informal arrangement with your former partner for whatever reason, you can contact the Child Maintenance Service.

This government body has been dealing with applications that meet these criteria since 2012. You will need to pay a fee to use this service, currently £20 and there is an ongoing collection fee from every maintenance payment you make or receive. The paying parent pays 20% and the receiving parent pays 4% each and every time a payment is made or received. There are also enforcement fees if payments are missed.

The Child Support Agency is still running child maintenance cases from before 2012. They will continue to run these until the agreements come to an end.

The fees for using the Child Maintenance Service are there to encourage people to reach an agreement themselves over child maintenance.

Child Maintenance Payments Agreed by the Court

The Court can deal with new child maintenance applications in some very specific circumstances. These are:

  • You can’t use the Child Maintenance Service because your former partner does not live in the UK
  • Your former partner is earning more than the Child Maintenance Service maximum threshold, which is £3,000 gross a month
  • There is additional support needed because the child has a disability or there are additional costs relating to their education.

The Court will use the usual calculation if the paying parent’s income is above the threshold.

Varying Child Maintenance

If your child maintenance has been arranged either through the Child Maintenance Service or through the Court, you may need to apply to vary the amount of child maintenance you are paying.

The most common reasons for applying to vary child maintenance payments is when the circumstances change for the person who is paying. This could be a reduction in wages or if they are moving in with a new partner who has children.

It’s also worth noting that the Court has a broader jurisdiction about when payment ends than the Child Maintenance Service. The Court can, and does, order child maintenance to continue during degree education.

End the Court Order

You can end the Court’s jurisdiction over the child maintenance if you or your former partner applies to the Child Maintenance Service to assume jurisdiction for the assessment, collection and enforcement of child maintenance. You will need to have given at least three months’ notice to your former partner to do this and you can only give notice after the first anniversary of the original Order has passed.

The best way to deal with child maintenance is to reach an agreement yourselves. After all, no one knows your children better than you. But if you’re struggling to reach an agreement, please contact one of our specialist Family and Child Law Solicitors who will be happy to help you. 

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