If you’re finding it hard to make a family-based arrangement, there is help available. For example, you could try Mediation. Or, as a last resort, you could ask the Child Maintenance Service to arrange child maintenance for you. You also have the option of going through the courts.
If you still find the idea of discussing child maintenance overwhelming, a professional family mediator, or McKenzie Friend could help you to reach agreement.
The Child Maintenance Service
If you can’t agree a child maintenance arrangement with the other parent, either of you can ask the child Maintenance Service (CMS) to arrange child maintenance on your behalf. This means the CMS calculates how much maintenance should be paid to the parent with main day to day care of the child or children, applying current legislation.
The CMS can also arrange for maintenance to be collected and paid to the other parent.
All money paid through the CMS is paid to the other parent even if they are in receipt of tax credits or benefits. If the non-resident parent is in receipt of benefits, then under the CMS rules a fixed amount of the benefit will be paid to the other parent as child maintenance.
Find out more about more about using the Child Maintenance Service at Gov.uk.
Parents living apart can also arrange child maintenance using a court order (in England and Wales), or a Minute of Agreement (in Scotland). You would usually need to get legal advice to do this, and pay legal costs.
Consent order (a type of court order in England and Wales)
This is an official ruling made by a court. It’s more commonly used when parents are deciding a divorce settlement or sharing assets and need to work with a solicitor to agree the amount of child maintenance to be paid. They will then apply to the court to turn the agreement into a consent order. A consent order means the court can enforce payment if the terms of the agreement are not met.
If you have a child maintenance clause in your consent order, the clause remains in place, and therefore legally binding and enforceable until the child is no longer eligible for child maintenance. If there is a disagreement over the amount of CM included in the consent order, either parent may apply to the CMS to open a case (but only after the Consent Order is more than 12 months old). Once the CMS have a live case, the child maintenance clause on the order is no longer applicable, however the rest of the clause in the Consent Order will remain in place.
Minute of Agreement (in Scotland)
Things are slightly different in Scotland. If you can make a family-based arrangement with the other parent (usually with help from solicitors), it can be made into a contract called a minute of agreement (sometimes called a separation agreement). This can be registered to make it legally binding, without the need to go to court.
If you have a minute of agreement already in place, it can be changed to a CMS arrangement if an application to the CMS is submitted by either parent (but not for the first 12 months it has been in place).
If child maintenance payments stop or fall into arrears, a sheriff officer can collect and enforce payments. Again, you will probably find there are legal costs involved.
To arrange a court order, you are likely to need:
- information about your income, and the other parent’s
- details of living costs for your child, such as school costs, clothing and food
- a date for when you propose to review the agreement