Child Maintenance – An Introduction
The information provided here is not a substitute for independent professional advice and readers should get professional advice relevant to their particular circumstances.
What is child maintenance?
Child maintenance is regular, reliable financial support that helps towards a child’s everyday living costs. The parent who doesn’t have main day-to-day care of the child pays child maintenance to the parent or person (such as a grandparent or guardian) who does, but it can be about more than just money.
Why is child maintenance important?
When parents separate there are many things to think about, such as legal issues, worries about where to live or financial difficulties. One of the biggest concerns is how to continue to support their children. Most parents want what’s best for their children, even if they live apart from them.
Child maintenance can make a real difference to children as it can help pay for things like clothing, food and other essentials. Making a child maintenance arrangement can help your children get the best possible start in life and it can help to keep both parents involved with their children’s lives.
It’s also important to remember that paying maintenance for your child is a legal responsibility.
How can parents arrange child maintenance?
Many parents choose to make an arrangement between themselves, by agreeing with the other parent about the amount and type of child maintenance that one will pay to the other. This is known as a family-based arrangement.
If you can’t agree, or if a family-based arrangement won’t work for you, either you or your partner can apply to the Child Support Agency (CSA), a government agency who can set up an arrangement for you.
In some cases you can also use the courts.
Where can I get child maintenance information and support?
You can contact a free and confidential service called Child Maintenance Options.
Child Maintenance Options can give you impartial information and support. It’s there to help both parents, as well as guardians, relatives and anyone concerned about a child or separated family. You can contact them on 0800 988 0988 or visit the website athttp://www.cmoptions.org/
What is Child Maintenance Options?
Child Maintenance Options is a free and confidential service for separating and separated parents, as well as family, friends, guardians, and anyone else with an interest in child maintenance. It provides impartial information and support to help both parents make informed choices about child maintenance.
Child Maintenance Options:
- can help you decide on the best child maintenance arrangement for you and your child and support you in putting it in place;
- can help over the phone or in a face-to-face meeting with a child maintenance expert;
- can help you get in touch with other useful organisations that offer specialist advice;
- won’t pass any information on to anyone else – unless you ask us to.
To make the right choices about child maintenance for your child, visit the Child Maintenance Options website for tools, leaflets and information, or phone to discuss your situation.
How can I get in touch with Child Maintenance Options?
Call 0800 988 0988*
Lines are open:
8am-8pm Monday to Friday
* Calls to 0800 numbers are free from BT landlines but you may have to pay if you use another phone company, a mobile phone, or if you are calling from abroad. Calls from mobile phones can cost up to 40p per minute – check the cost of calls with your service provider.
How can I arrange child maintenance?
A family-based arrangement
The quickest and easiest way to arrange child maintenance is for you and the other parent to agree things between yourselves. More than half a million children in the UK now benefit from this kind of family-based arrangement.
It doesn’t only have to be about money – it can include other kinds of support, for example, providing school uniforms (we call this ‘payments in kind’).
There are lots of benefits to having a family arrangement:
- It’s quick and easy to set up, so children can start to benefit straight away.
- If you can keep lawyers and the CSA out of it, it’s a lot easier to keep things friendly. When there’s less conflict, it’s the children who benefit.
- A family-based arrangement is totally private. No one else needs to get involved in your affairs.
- It’s flexible, because you can make special arrangements to take account of you or your children’s changing circumstances. You can also be flexible about how, what and when payments should be made.
- You can make an arrangement even if your ex-partner lives or moves abroad. You can’t always do this with other arrangement options.
- If it doesn’t work out you can change things. Child Maintenance Options can talk to you about your other options, including asking the CSA to set up an arrangement.
Child Maintenance Options can talk you through all aspects of a family-based arrangement and help you to get started.
The Child Maintenance Calculator gives you an indication of what your payments could be. You could use this amount as a starting point for your family-based arrangement.
You can also use the Child Maintenance Options family-based arrangement form to keep a record of what you have agreed with the other parent.
What about a Child Support Agency arrangement?
A family-based arrangement isn’t for everyone. If you don’t know where the other parent is, you don’t have a good relationship, or domestic abuse or violence is involved, you might need to look at the other options.
Either parent can apply to the Child Support Agency (CSA) who can:
- Work out how much payments should be and when they should be made.
- Trace the other parent (if you don’t know where they are).
- Collect and enforce payments.
- Allow both parents to avoid contact.
However, a CSA arrangement can sometimes be inflexible. For example, if your circumstances change, it can take a while to change your payments.
The CSA also offers a service called Maintenance Direct, where the CSA will work out how much and how often your payments should be, but you set up and manage your own payments (with the other parent).
With Maintenance Direct, parents can agree between themselves how and when money is paid, and can vary child maintenance amounts if circumstances change.
The CSA is still available to give advice and guidance if any changes mean a new calculation needs to be made, or step in if the other parent doesn’t make the payments that are due. It’s a good idea to keep a record of the payments you make or receive, as the CSA won’t have access to that information unless you give it to them.
You can get an idea of how much child maintenance you might pay or receive through the CSA with the Child Maintenance Calculator
You can find more information about statutory arrangements at http://www.cmoptions.org/en/options/child-support-agency.asp.
What about using the courts?
The final option for arranging child maintenance and enforcing payments comes through the courts. This can differ depending on where in the country you and the other parent live, and it’s usually only the best option if you are going to court for other reasons (like arranging a divorce or dividing property or other assets), as courts rarely grant orders otherwise.
You can find more information about going through the courts at http://www.cmoptions.org/en/options/courts.asp.