Dealing with maintenance

Dealing with maintenance


Maintenance for the children

The statutory child maintenance services

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) manages all new applications for a statutory child maintenance arrangement.

The Child Support Agency accepts no new applications, but still manages statutory arrangements set up before December 2013. All these child maintenance arrangements will end by 2017. New arrangements will then have to be made either by setting up a family-based arrangement or by making use of the CMS.

You, as the parent with care of the children, can use the CMS to get child maintenance from the parent who does not live with the child (the 'non-resident parent'). It can calculate the child maintenance that the non-resident parent should pay. You can also ask the CMS to enforce and collect payment on your behalf. This is the 'Collect and Pay' system of the CMS. The non-resident parent will pay the maintenance to the CMS, which will pay it over to you. However, an application fee and ongoing collection charges apply when you use the service.

Before approaching the CMS, you should first try to reach a family-based arrangement. A family-based arrangement is a child maintenance agreement that you have negotiated directly with the non-resident parent. You can use the Child Maintenance Calculator to calculate the amount that the non-resident parent can be expected to pay.

You can also use the Government's free 'Direct Pay' online system, which will work out the amount that the non-resident parent should pay. Once you've agreed the payments directly with the other parent, you can set up the regular payments on the Direct Pay system. The payments are made directly to you, and the Direct Pay system will keep track of all payments made. The CMS will only get involved if payments are missed. There are also no ongoing charges for this service.

More information on a family-based agreement is available from the Child Maintenance Options (CMO) website.

The CMS will also first refer you to the CMO before it takes on your case.

The CMS can deal with an application for child maintenance if:

  • The child is not a stepchild;
  • The child has at least one non-resident parent;
  • The child is either under 16, or between 16 and 20 and in full-time non-advanced (i.e. no higher than A-level) education; and
  • The child, the receiving parent and the non-resident parent all live in the UK.

The only exceptions to the last rule are if the non-resident parent is employed by the civil service, diplomatic service or UK armed forces, or by a company registered in the UK.

The court

The court can make maintenance orders:

  • where a child is 16 or over and is in full-time education or training for a trade, profession or vocation;
  • for stepchildren;
  • for school-fee payments;
  • for regular payments to be made on top of the maximum amount calculated by the CSA or CMS; and
  • for additional payments to meet some or all of the expenses relating directly to a child's disability (including blindness), although consideration should be given to whether or not disability living allowance is being paid.

The court can also make other financial provision for children, such as lump sum and/or transfer of property orders.

Where the court assesses maintenance, Income Support Child Rates and the National Minimum Allowance Rates for Fostered Children can guide them. Also, the courts can take into account what a parent would have been ordered to pay if it were an application through the services.

Private maintenance agreements and consent orders

Parents do not need to use the services. In fact, they are encouraged to negotiate directly with each other and come to a family-based arrangement. The services are really for parents who are unable to reach an agreement between themselves.

If parties enter into a legally binding agreement that is registered in the Books of Council and Session, then the services will not have jurisdiction to calculate maintenance until a year and a day after the agreement was entered into. This is because, in Scotland, these agreements have the same force as Court Orders.

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