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Using the Child Maintenance Service (CMS)

Raising a child isn’t cheap, and it’s important to find a way to share this cost with your child’s other parent. The money that helps pay for a child’s everyday living costs is called child maintenance. This is paid by the parent who doesn’t usually live with the child (the ‘paying parent’) to the person who does the most day-to-day care of them (the ‘receiving parent’). You can either make arrangements privately with the other parent or go through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).  

This page explains everything from how to apply to the CMS to how they work out your maintenance and how to complain if you need to.

Applying to the CMS

How much will I be paid?

What if we share the care of our child?

Problems with the CMS

If you’d like to get advice tailored to your circumstances, talk to us.

Applying to the CMS

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

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.

Direct pay

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.

How much will I be paid?

The CMS uses the paying parent’s weekly income before tax and National Insurance (gross income) to work out maintenance payments. This can include wages or income from a pension.

Other income, like interest on savings, income from a company or rent from a property is ignored in the initial calculations. Assets like savings and property are also usually ignored. If the paying parent has other income or savings, you can ask for these to be taken into account in the calculation.

The income of a paying parent’s partner is not included in the calculation.

There are different rates of child maintenance, depending on the paying parent’s income.

Basic rate

The paying parent pays the basic rate if none of the reduced rates apply. This is a percentage of the paying parent’s gross weekly income. It’s calculated in 2 stages.

Stage 1: The paying parent’s gross income is reduced by a certain percentage depending on how many children live with them. This includes the children of a new partner.

Number of children living with the paying parent Gross income is reduced by
1 11%
2 14%
3 or more 16%


Stage 2: After these deductions are made, maintenance is calculated as a percentage of the remaining amount. The percentage depends on the number of children that need to be paid for. The amount is rounded to the nearest pound.

The first £800 of any earnings is assessed on the percentage shown in the first column of the table below. Earnings over £800 a week are assessed on the percentage shown in the second column. These 2 amounts are then added together.

Number of children
applied for
Percentage of gross income up to £800 Percentage of gross income over £800
1 12% 9%
2 16% 12%
3 or more 19% 15%


Example of a basic rate calculation

Simon and Lucy are separated. They have 2 children, Evie and Ruby, who live with Lucy. Simon now lives with Jane and her 4 children. Lucy applies to the CMS for child maintenance.

Simon’s gross weekly earnings are £207.55 wages and some Working Tax Credits. Working Tax Credits aren’t counted as income.

Stage 1: Simon’s total weekly income is £207.55. This is reduced by 16% because he has 4 children living with him.

£207.55 x 16% = £33.21

£207.55 – £33.21 = £174.34

Stage 2: The maintenance due for 2 children is 16%.

£174.34 x 16% = £27.89

This is rounded to the nearest pound, so Simon pays Lucy £28 a week.

Reduced rate

The reduced rate is used when the paying parent’s gross weekly income is between £100 and £200 a week.

The paying parent pays £7 a week plus a percentage of their income over £100. The percentage depends on how many children the receiving parent is claiming child maintenance for, and the number of other children living with the paying parent. The total figure is rounded to the nearest pound.

The percentage of gross income over £100 calculated is:

Other children living with the paying parent Children applied for
1 2 3 or more
None 17% 25% 31%
1 14.1% 21.2% 26.4%
2 13.2% 19.9% 24.9%
3 or more 12.4% 18.9% 23.8%
Example of reduced rate child maintenance calculation

Euan and Henry have separated. They have 1 child together, Callum, who lives with Henry. Euan now lives with his new partner David and his daughter Rana. Henry applies for child maintenance for Callum.

Euan earns £190 a week (gross income) and neither the nil rate nor the flat rate applies. The reduced rate applies as Euan’s income is between £100 and £200 a week.

Euan has to pay Henry £20 a week for child maintenance. The CMS works this out like this:

The amount of Euan’s weekly income above £100 is £90. He lives with 1 child and maintenance is being claimed for 1 child, so Euan has to pay 14.1% of £90 plus £7:

£90 x 14.1% = £12.69

£12.69 + £7 = £19.69

This is rounded to the nearest pound, so Euan pays £20 a week.

£7 a week (flat rate)

A £7 a week flat rate is used if the paying parent:

  • Is earning less than £100 a week
  • Claims Universal Credit because they have no income, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, income-related Employment and Support Allowance or Pension Credit (or their partner claims for both of them)
  • Claims certain benefits like contribution-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance, State Pension or Carer’s Allowance
Nil rate

Nil rate is when the paying parent doesn’t have to pay any child maintenance. This applies to a paying parent who is:

  • Earning less than £7 a week (income before tax and National Insurance)
  • A child under 16 or a young person under 19 in full-time non-advanced education (up to A-level or equivalent)
  • 16 or 17 and on certain means-tested benefits
  • A young person getting a work-based training allowance
  • A prisoner
  • In residential care or a nursing home and getting help with fees or on certain benefits

What if we share the care of our child?

If your child spends exactly the same amount of time with both parents, neither has to pay child maintenance. This is the case even if one of you is much better off financially.

If your child’s other parent looks after them at least 1 night a week on average, the CMS sees this as sharing their care. And the amount of child maintenance you can get will be reduced if your child’s other parent looks after your child at least once a week (52 nights a year or more). 

If the other parent pays the reduced or basic rate of child maintenance, this will be reduced by:

Number of nights your child stays with the paying parent Amount maintenance is reduced by
52 – 103 1/7th  
104 -155 2/7ths
156 – 174 3/7ths
175 or more 50%, plus an extra £7 a week reduction for each child in this band


If the other parent pays the flat rate of £7 a week, the calculation is more complicated. To find out more about how shared care affects the flat rate of child maintenance, talk to us.

If you can’t agree how to share your child’s care with their other parent, the CMS will assume they stay over once a week. If the other parent tells the CMS that your child is staying over with them more nights than they actually are, give the CMS as much evidence as you can to help with their decision.

If your child’s other parent has children from another relationship that they don’t live with, the maintenance they need to pay will be split between you and the other receiving parent. This is called apportionment.

Example of how shared care affects maintenance
Simon pays Lucy £28 a week for child maintenance as both children live with Lucy full time. Later on, both children start to stay over at Simon’s house 1 night a week. This means that the amount Simon pays Lucy reduces by 1/7th.

1/7th of 28 = £4

£28 – £4 = £24

Simon needs to pay £24 a week.

Problems with the CMS

If you have bad service from the CMS – for example, delays, bad communication or administrative mistakes – you can complain. The CMS should look into it and try to put things right. 

If there have been long delays or you’ve been given the wrong information, you might be paid compensation. Also, if the CMS has caused you serious inconvenience, severe embarrassment or your health has suffered, you might be eligible for a small amount called a consolatory payment.  Lots of people are frustrated when claiming child maintenance payments, but this in itself isn’t enough to get a consolatory payment. There’s no legal right to this.

Complaining might not change how much maintenance you get. If you think the calculation is wrong, you’ll need to challenge the calculation.

See how to complain to the CMS on gov.uk.

Date last updated: 21 May 2024

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