What is child support and how much should I pay?

Natalie Higham

Natalie Higham

Executive GCILEx

What is child support?

Child support or child maintenance is a financial arrangement between parents. It is regular (usually monthly) payments made by the parent with whom the child does not live (referred to as the non-resident parent) to the child’s main carer to meet the child’s living expenses. Child maintenance is paid when parents separate from each other or even if parents have never been in a relationship.

Both parents are legally responsible for the costs of raising their children even if they do not see them.

Arranging child maintenance

The arrangements for child maintenance can be made directly between the two parents, if both parents agree the amount and frequency of payments.

Alternatively, child maintenance can be arranged through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). This is the body responsible for administering child support, which is separate to the court. In certain circumstances (set down in law), or where the CMS does not have the power to make a child maintenance assessment, the court can order child maintenance. For example, when the non-resident parent does not live in the UK and is not a civil servant, a member of the armed forces, employed by a UK registered company, or is employed by certain prescribed government bodies. 

If parents use the CMS to arrange child maintenance, fees are charged to both parents. This is to encourage parents to try and agree child maintenance together.

If parents are getting divorced or ending a civil partnership, it is possible for parents to agree a child maintenance order as part of an overall financial settlement arising from the end of the relationship.

How much child maintenance should be paid? 

The amount of child maintenance to be paid will vary depending on a number of factors. It involves the application of a percentage (which varies according to the number of children maintenance is being paid for) against the non-resident parent’s gross income before any deductions are made for tax or national insurance. A discount is applied for the number of nights the child/children spend with the non-resident parent and for the number of any other child/children the non-resident is financially responsible for maintaining. Generally, substantive child maintenance is not payable if parents share care of the child/children equally, if the non-resident parent is in receipt of certain benefits, is out of work, a full-time student or is in prison. A nominal or token rate of child maintenance may be applied.

The CMS has an online calculator which requires information about the non-resident parent’s income, the number of children that the paying parent will be paying child maintenance for and how often the child/children stay overnight with the paying parent. The calculator then provides an indication as to what child maintenance the non-resident parent should be paying to the main carer.

To make a claim for child maintenance through the CMS, the parents and child need to be living in the UK and the child needs to be under 16 (or under 20 if they are in full time secondary education or equivalent).

You can apply through the child maintenance service if you’re a parent , a grandparent with the main day to day care of the child or the child’s guardian.

Unless the non-resident parent is earning a very high income (which could warrant top-up maintenance), the court will still apply the same formula as the CMS when assessing the level of child maintenance.

If you need further advice or assistance in relation to child maintenance or other matters for children following a breakdown in your relationship do not hesitate to contact our family team.


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