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Arranging child maintenance

Child maintenance is the money a parent pays towards their child’s everyday living costs. Usually, the parent who doesn’t live with the child pays maintenance to the parent who cares for the child most of the time. Child maintenance can also include paying bills and buying things like clothes and toys, as long as both parents agree.

There are different ways to arrange child maintenance. It’s up to you to agree the one that suits. The amount you will get depends on how much your child’s other parent earns, how often the child stays overnight with them, and whether they have other children or have children living with them.

Who has to pay child maintenance? 

Options for arranging child maintenance

How much maintenance should be paid?

Child maintenance FAQs

You can use the interactive tool below to see how to arrange regular child maintenance and where to go for more help and information. And if you’d like like to talk through your options for child maintenance, you can call our helpline.

Who has to pay child maintenance?

All parents are legally responsible for supporting their children financially – whether they see them or not. The parent who doesn’t live with the child, or only lives with them part of the time (the paying parent) usually pays maintenance to the parent who looks after the child most of the time (the receiving parent). If your child spends exactly the same amount of time with both their parents, neither of you has to pay child maintenance. This is the case even if one of you is much better off financially.

Child maintenance has to be paid for children up until they’re 16, or until they’re 20 if they’re in approved education or training. More on what counts as approved education or training

Options for arranging child maintenance

There are 3 ways you can put maintenance arrangements in place:

  1. Agree the arrangements with your child’s other parent (called a family-based arrangement)
  2. Apply to the court for a consent order
  3. Use the Child Maintenance Service (CMS)

Agreeing with your child’s other parent

You can make any arrangement you like for child maintenance, as long as both parents agree. This is called a family-based arrangement. The paying parent might make regular payments, or pay certain amounts for things like school trips, or buy things outright, like school uniforms or nappies. Or a mixture of any of these things. This can be flexible and change as your circumstances change.

You can use this form on gov.uk to write down what you agree, although this isn’t legally binding.

Advantages to agreeing with the other parent
  • It’s free.
  • You can make any arrangement that suits you both.
  • You could agree a higher amount than you would get through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).
  • You can start to get payments straight away.
  • It might help to avoid conflict with the other parent to make an arrangement that works for you both.
  • You can still apply to the CMS later if things don’t work out.
Disadvantages to agreeing with the other parent
  • This might be hard to do if you don’t communicate well or if one of you feels intimidated by the other.
  • It’s not legally binding, so if the agreement breaks down and you don’t get paid, there’s no legal way to get the money.

Applying to court for a consent order

If you can agree maintenance for your child with the other parent, you can apply to the court to make this legally binding. This is called a consent order. Both parents have to agree to the order. It’s a good idea to speak to a legal adviser to make sure the order is written correctly.

This is usually used when parents are divorcing and sorting out their finances. It might also include other agreements, like who’s going to pay the mortgage.

Advantages to a consent order
  • It can cover other things as well, like mortgage payments – so can be a useful way of agreeing the terms of a separation or divorce.
  • If the other parent doesn’t keep up with maintenance payments, you can take steps through the court to get the money.
Disadvantages to a consent order
  • To set up the order, you have to go through a formal process and pay a court fee of £53.
  • Once you make a consent order, you have to wait for a year to apply to the Child Maintenance Service.
  • If you have a major disagreement about the consent order with the other parent and have to pay legal fees to sort it out, this can be expensive and time-consuming.
  • You have to return to court if you want to change the order.
  • If you get independent legal advice (which is a good idea), you’ll have to pay for this.

Using the Child Maintenance Service (CMS)

The CMS can arrange child maintenance for you if you can’t agree things with the other parent. Our page on using the Child Maintenance Service explains how it works and how to apply.

Advantages to using the CMS
  • You don’t need to agree an amount with your child’s other parent – the CMS calculates the amount using a set formula.
  • The CMS can chase for payment if necessary.
Disadvantages to using the CMS
  • If the other parent doesn’t pay, you can’t control when or how the CMS chases the payments.
  • There’s a limit to how much you can get through the CMS. If the paying parent earns more than £156,000 a year, you’d need to apply through court for more maintenance.

How much maintenance should be paid?

You can arrange for any amount of child maintenance with the other parent, as long as you both agree. You might want some guidance on how to have a conversation about child maintenance with the other parent.

It can be hard to know how much to agree on. This online child maintenance calculator might give you a starting point for talking to your child’s other parent.

The standard formula takes into account the paying parent’s income and any other children that they’re responsible for, including those of a new partner if they live with them. If the paying parent has a new partner, their income won’t affect your child maintenance calculation.

If your child lives with their other parent for part of the time, you’ll get less child maintenance.

For details about the standard formula used to calculate child maintenance, see our page on using the Child Maintenance Service.

Child maintenance FAQs

What if I don’t know where my child’s other parent is?

You can still apply to the CMS. They’ll ask for as much information as possible about the other parent, so they can trace them. They’ll want to know things like: their date of birth, National Insurance number, workplace, if they’re self-employed, if they’re claiming benefits, their last known address, the town they live in and the registration of their car.

The CMS will do their best to trace the other parent. But this might take some time and isn’t always possible. If they can’t find them, you won’t be able to get child maintenance.

What if both parents have one or more children living with them?

If you’re separated and have more than one child, some of the children might live with you and some might live with the other parent. In this situation, both of you might need to pay maintenance to the other.

If you’ve agreed together how to handle maintenance for your children, you can decide how to organise payments. Here’s an example of how this could work.

Example of both parents paying

Tariq and Dina separate. They have two children, Nazia and Sunny. Nazia decides to live with Dina and Sunny lives with Tariq. Both parents should pay child maintenance for the child that lives with the other parent.

Tariq and Dina agree together how they’ll deal with this. They use the calculator on gov.uk to work out that Tariq should pay £50 a week and Dina should pay £30 a week. So they agree that Tariq will give Dina £20 a week and Dina won’t pay anything to Tariq.

What if the paying parent lives abroad?

If your child’s other parent lives abroad, you can’t use the CMS to arrange child maintenance. The exception to this is if your child’s other parent is working abroad for certain British organisations, for example:

  • As a civil servant or a diplomat 
  • In the armed forces
  • For a company that’s based and registered in the UK
  • For the NHS or a local council

If you can’t use the CMS and you can’t agree payments between the two of you, you could apply for a court order that can be followed through where the other parent lives.

This is called a Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Order (REMO). This will only work if the country where the other parent lives is in the REMO scheme.

Your local magistrates’ court should be able to help you fill in the forms and send them to the right place. More on applying for maintenance if a parent lives abroad

What if I live abroad?

You won’t be able to make a new application to the CMS if you’re not living in the UK. But if you already have a maintenance agreement in place, you may be able to use the service to make the other parent continue to pay.

Check whether the country you live in has a Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Order (REMO). This will allow you to use the courts where you live to enforce a child maintenance decision.

If you don’t live in a REMO country, you may still be able to enforce a decision. Speak to a legal adviser either in the UK or the country where you live.

Date last updated: 16 April 2024

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