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What you need to know about child maintenance

Published on 16 November 2021 | Modified on 16 January 2023

Written by Lana Jones

Divorce & Family

The topic of child maintenance can often be met with a great deal of trepidation, both to ensure that a resolution can be found without impacting any children involved, as well as ensuring that payments appropriately cover living costs for said children.

Many clients come to us seeking advice and guidance on how to ensure child maintenance agreements are fair and accurate, below we will take you some of the key points to consider when dealing with child maintenance.

What is child maintenance?

Child maintenance is a regular and reliable financial support payment, that is used towards the day to day living costs of a child. Under law a child is defined as someone that is under 16, or under 20 if they are within approved education and training, such as A levels or NVQs up to level 3.

Who should pay child maintenance?

An individual will receive child maintenance if they are the child’s main carer, and the other parent lives separately. Whilst typically a parent in defined as the main carer of a child, often this can also include a grandparent or guardian. A parent will need to pay child maintenance if they are the child’s biological or adoptive parent, if they don’t live with the child or if they are the child’s legal parent.

How is child maintenance calculated?

Child maintenance payments are either agreed by the parents of a child or, if an agreement cannot be reached, they are calculated by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). From this the amount of money a parent is required to pay is typically calculated by following six steps:


The parent’s gross yearly income, including any benefit payments.

Things that may impact income

Identifying areas that could change the gross income of a parent (e.g. pension payments, other children a parent may support). Gross yearly income is then converted to a weekly figure.

Child maintenance rates

Depending on the gross weekly income, one of four rates is applied.

The number of children involved

The number of children a parent must pay child maintenance for is taken into account, including any family-based arrangements.

Weekly child maintenance amounts

A weekly maintenance amount is calculated.

Shared care

Deductions are made from the weekly maintenance amount depending on the average number of ‘shared care’ nights a week, in which a child stays overnight with the paying parent.

Decisions based on child maintenance are reviewed annually, unless a paying or receiving parent has a change of circumstances.

What should you do if child maintenance is disputed?

If a voluntary agreement cannot be reached between two parents and CMS calculated payments fail or fall behind, CMS has a number of wide-ranging powers to obtain any maintenance due. This can include ‘direct pay’, which involves the maintenance being taken direct from the non-resident parent’s pay via their employer. This involves an admin fee of 20% for the paying parent, and the receiving parent will receive 4% less.

The team here at Poole Alcock Family Law has supported countless families through court proceedings where child maintenance is involved. If you would like to learn more about our child law services, speak to us today!

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