What is Child Maintenance and how do I apply for it?

by Alia Bi

Child Maintenance is the financial support that a parent provides to another parent, for the day to day childcare and living costs, as they are both expected to pay towards the upbringing of their children. Therefore, child maintenance is an obligation for a parent who either does not see their child and/or does not live in the same household, either due to separation or breakdown of a marriage. The main carer of the child can also be a guardian or a grandparent and does not necessarily have to be the child’s parents. Therefore, they may also be entitled to child maintenance payments.

There are two ways in which parents can arrange child maintenance, either privately between them or through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), which is a government scheme. Ordinarily, child maintenance is only applicable for a child who is under the age of 16 or under the age of 20 if they are in approved education or training. 

This article will look into the two ways that child maintenance can be arranged, and will address the issue where one parent is abroad. It will also outline how child maintenance is calculated and the payment methods used by the CMS to make payments and what enforcement steps can be taken if the receiving party is owed monies.

A private arrangement between both parents

Child maintenance can be agreed upon privately between both parents. This arrangement is often useful if both parties get along and know each other’s residential address. This arrangement will be both quicker and flexible and allows them to decide on the living and care costs that should be paid.

If child maintenance cannot be arranged privately between both parents, then they can alternately apply via the CMS.

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS)

To apply for child maintenance via the CMS, the applying party must meet the eligibility requirement before completing an online application. The eligibility requirements provide that the parties must both have the right to live in the UK and be residing in the UK too.

Child maintenance does not need to be paid if either party is in prison or in full-time education with no income. When making an application through CMS, the party applying will need to provide certain information such as national insurance number, names of both parents, bank account details, the child’s name and date of birth. It goes without saying that the more information that one provides, the quicker the process. Whilst there is a fee of £20 to process the application, there are certain exceptions to it, such as if the party applying is under the age of 19 and/or has been a victim of domestic violence. The average timescale for a decision by the CMS after applying is up to 4 weeks. 

What if  the receiving parent and child are abroad?

Child maintenance cannot be applied for by the receiving party if they and their child are not living in the UK. However, the paying party can live abroad and still pay child maintenance as long as he/she works for a British organisation.   

How is child maintenance calculated?

The CMS will usually follow six steps to calculate the payments for each application. A useful guide on the 6 steps can be found using the following link: How we work out child maintenance (publishing.service.gov.uk).

If the paying party is on specific benefits, then the receiving party gets anything between £7 and £10 a week in child maintenance (based on the paying party’s gross weekly income). These benefits include but are not limited to Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Pension Credit and Universal Credit.  

How are child maintenance payments made?

If the party applying for child maintenance is successful in their application, the CMS will use one of two methods to arrange the payment. One method is called direct pay. This involves the paying party directly paying the child maintenance to the receiving party, that which has been declared by the CMS. The second method is called the collect and pay service. This method involves the CMS collecting the child maintenance from the paying party and then paying it to the receiving party. This is a suitable option for anyone wanting to avoid any contact with each other.

I am owed child maintenance, what can I do? 

If and when the CMS declare that the paying party must pay child maintenance to the receiving party, then there is an obligation upon them to pay. If the paying party fails to pay or only pays in part, then the CMS can take legal action. The CMS can take the non-paying parent to court and apply for a liability order which can result in an enforcement charge of £300. 

Useful link/contact numbers 

The following link can be useful for the party applying for child maintenance via the CMS to calculate their child maintenance whilst he/she waits for a response from the CMS: Calculate your child maintenance – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Before completing the online application for child maintenance, a call must be made to the Child Maintenance Options, who will then give the applying party a reference number and explain how to apply. 

Child Maintenance Options

Telephone: 0800 953 0191

Monday to Friday, 8 am to 8 pm

This article is intended for guidance only and ‘must not’ be relied upon for specific advice.


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