Does having equal care of my child mean I won’t pay child maintenance?

The amount of child maintenance can be reduced depending on the time the children spend with the paying parent, but what if this time is shared equally? Here, we take a look at how your child’s living arrangements could affect child maintenance.

If you have concerns about your money or children and you feel you need legal advice, contact specialist family solicitor Mark Heptinstall of Slater Heelis Solicitors. He is recognised as a ‘Leading Individual’ in The Legal 500 and ranked in Chambers UK, and is described as having “the amazing ability to bring calm into troubled waters”.

What is considered “shared care” and how does this reduce child maintenance?

If a child stays overnight with the paying parent, the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) labels it as “shared care” even though this is far from an equal distribution of time. Shared care is treated in different ways and depends on the maintenance rate the non-resident parent is paying, namely Basic, Basic Plus, or Reduced Rate.

Fundamentally, the paying parent’s maintenance amount is divided between the number of qualifying children, and that sum is then reduced by the number of nights the children stay over. For example, if the children stay between 52 to 103 nights each year, the maintenance payable will be reduced by 1/7th, 104 to 155 nights the reduction is 2/7ths, for 156 to 174 nights 3/7ths, and anything over 175 nights per year is reduced by ½ (50%) plus an additional £7 reduction per week for each child in this band. This is referred to by the CMS as the “shared care band”.

If the paying parent is in receipt of benefits and pays the flat rate of £7 a week, the calculation is more complicated.

What if the number of shared care nights changes?

The CMS do not need to know about every change to the number of nights of agreed shared care because they only need to know if the change affects the “shared care band” used to calculate the reduction. So if shared care changes from 140 to 150 nights, for example, they would not need to know. However, if the number of nights changed from 150 to 175, this change would need to be reported as it affects the amount of child maintenance payable.

What happens if day-to-day care is equal between the paying parent and the receiving parent?

If shared care is completely equal and the children share their time between their parents, then the paying parent does not have to pay any maintenance for those children. An equal number of nights is defined by the CMS as 175 per year.


What if parents can’t reach an agreement about shared care?

If both parents agree in principle that they share care for their children, but cannot agree on the number of nights that should be taken into consideration, the CMS has the power to make an assumption of shared care. Typically, this is based on one night per week and is called “assumed shared care”, and means that the amount of child maintenance payable for each child will be reduced by 1/7th. A decision made in this way will not be changed unless both parents agree on the number of nights and provide evidence to the CMS showing the shared care is different.

Which parent receives the child benefit where care is shared?

Child benefit can only be claimed by one person, not a couple, and this may be problematic in cases of shared care. However, there may be a work around here if the person making the claim chooses to have the payment paid into a joint bank account, which could be maintained for costs relating to the children. They can also elect to have the child benefit paid into their own account or someone else’s account. It is worth noting that child benefit payments cannot be split, and in the absence of an alternative, the claimant will receive the payments each month.

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