The law states that every parent must contribute financially towards their children until they are at least 16, and, if they remain in full-time education, until 20. If you are the parent with day-to-day care of the children, this guide sets out your rights.
Child maintenance covers a child’s living costs and comes from the parent who does not live with the child. Both parents are responsible for contributing to the costs of raising their children, even if they have no contact with them at all. Child maintenance can be dealt with privately between parents, but if they cannot agree, it can be done via the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).
What can the CMS do?
They can work out how much the absent parent should pay, arrange payments, take action if they don’t pay, resolve disagreements about parentage, and try to locate the other parent if they are missing.
How do I claim child maintenance?
Most applications are dealt with via the governments online service, although it can be done over the phone. It costs £20 to apply, but you won’t have to pay if you are under the age of 19 or have experienced domestic abuse. You will need to provide the following information detailed information about yourself and family, which includes:
- National insurance number
- Bank account details
- Child’s name and date of birth
- The number of nights the child spends with the other parent
- Full names of both parents
- Sufficient information to enable the CMS to identify and locate the paying parent. For example, their address (if known). Providing them with as much information as possible will help CMS arrange maintenance quicker.
How long will the CMS take to make an assessment?
Typically, you will hear from the CMS within 4 weeks, unless they have problems locating your ex. They will send the assessment to you alongside information as to how the calculation was reached. This includes the paying parent’s income. If you agree it is correct, the CMS sends you and the paying parent a payment schedule for the year, which will set out the dates the payments should be made. It will also include any maintenance they should have paid since applying to the CMS.
What happens if the CMS can’t find my ex?
The CMS can trace the paying parent through any organisation that may hold their details, such as their current or previous employer, HMRC, or the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).
How much child maintenance will I receive?
How much child maintenance you will receive depends on several factors, including:
- How much the paying parent earns
- How many children the paying parent will pay maintenance for
- How many nights a week the child spends with the paying parent
- If any other children live with the paying parent
- Whether the paying parent is on benefits
If you are receiving certain benefits, you will only receive £7 child maintenance per week (at the time of writing this). This includes: carers allowance, employment and support allowance, income support, jobseekers allowance, pension credit, state pension, and universal credit.
How does the CMS pay me child maintenance?
There are two ways you can get the money due:
- Direct from the paying parent. This is called “direct pay” and won’t cost anything. If you don’t want the paying parent to know where you live, the CMS can set up a non-geographical bank account with a sort code that doesn’t give away any location information.
- Collect and pay. You can ask the CMS to collect child maintenance to you if:
- You don’t want to use direct pay because you’ve experienced domestic abuse, for example
- You previously used direct pay, but the arrangement broke down
There is a fee for this service from both parties, which is currently set at 4% of the amount of maintenance the receiving parent will get. It is taken directly by the CMS before being passed on to the receiving parent. The paying parent will have to pay 20% of the amount of maintenance, which is added to what they have to pay.
I don’t agree with the CMS calculation. What can I do?
If you don’t agree with the amount of maintenance to be paid because you think the CMS has made a mistake, you can ask for a “Mandatory Reconsideration”. You must explain why you believe the calculation is wrong.
Alternatively, if you think the calculation has not taken certain factors into account that would either increase or decrease the amount, then you may be able to ask for a “variation” of the child maintenance calculation.
There are now fewer grounds to request a variation. The only grounds for an upward variation are income that has not been taken into account, or the paying parent is diverting income away from themselves in order to reduce their child maintenance liability. It is no longer possible to ask for a review or variation based on the paying parent’s lifestyle or their assets. In addition, it is now harder to challenge a maintenance calculation if the paying parent’s income has changed by more 25%, whether this is higher or lower.
If circumstances have changed, then the CMS may decide the case requires a “supersession” or adjustment of the calculation.
If none of the above criteria are met, then the child maintenance calculation will remain in place until the review, which takes place each anniversary after the award was made, providing the case is still open.
What allowances to child maintenance are there in relation to shared care?
For parents with shared care, a reduction in the amount of maintenance is payable. Where there is no agreement about the amount of care each parent provides, the CMS will assume that the parent providing the care to the lesser extent has the children at an average of 1 night per week. The CMS will therefore apply a 1/7th reduction in the maintenance to be paid. For parents with equal care, there will be no maintenance paid by either parent.
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