The CMS calculates how much child maintenance one parent should pay the other if you can’t decide this between you. You can use the service if you and the other parent live in the UK and your child is under 16, or under 20 and studying full-time for A-levels or equivalent.
To apply to the CMS, you first need to use the Get help arranging child maintenance service on gov.uk. This gives you information about getting support for your child, including how to make your own arrangement with the other parent (called a family-based arrangement). Through this service, you can get a reference number and start your application to the CMS.
You can only go directly to the CMS if you can’t use the online service.
The application process
It usually costs £20 to apply to the CMS. You won’t have to pay if you’re under 19 or have experienced domestic abuse.
If you’ve experienced domestic abuse, you should be able to claim child maintenance safely – see our page on this.
After you apply, the CMS will find out your child’s other parent’s income from HMRC (the tax office). Normally, the CMS will then get in touch with your child’s other parent to ask about their circumstances. They’ll usually also send them a calculation of how much child maintenance they’ll need to pay.
You should hear back from the CMS within 4 weeks. It might take longer if you don’t know where the other parent is and they have to be traced.
2 ways to be paid
The CMS can pay in 2 ways: direct pay and collect and pay. Most people start on direct pay and move on to collect and pay if they need to.
This is where CMS calculates your child maintenance and explains how much to pay, and your child’s other parent pays it directly to you. You and the other parent agree how and when to transfer the money.
It’s usually better to have maintenance payments made by standing order into your bank account. That way you can keep track of the payments, and have a record if things go wrong.
Even though the CMS doesn’t deal with the payments for you, the payments still need to be made in full and on time. If they aren’t, you can tell the CMS and they’ll chase the other parent.
Collect and pay
This is when the CMS collects the money from your child’s other parent and pays it to you.
The paying parent has to pay an extra 20% for this (on top of the child maintenance amount). And your child maintenance payments are reduced by 4%.
Because of this cost, you can’t choose to use collect and pay if your child’s other parent would prefer to use direct pay. If the CMS thinks your child’s other parent is unlikely to pay, they can decide you shouldn’t be paid directly and will step in to collect the payments.