When parents separate, one of the first issues they must address is how they will provide financially for their children following separation. This blog will explain how child maintenance is calculated and how best to put in place arrangements for it to be paid.
“Child Maintenance” means payments made by a non-resident parent to the resident parent for the benefit of the child. These payments are usually made on a monthly basis. If parents share the care of the child then the resident parent will be the parent who receives child benefit.
Child maintenance is payable whether the parents are married or not.
Child maintenance is not spousal maintenance. For information on spousal maintenance, click here.
For the majority of families, child maintenance will be under the jurisdiction of the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). The CMS is a government body that determines what percentage of the payer’s gross income should be paid to the main carer of the children based on a calculation involving a number of factors. Useful information is set out on the government website: https://www.gov.uk/making-child-maintenance-arrangement
The Courts only have jurisdiction to order child maintenance payments in limited circumstances, and these are discussed further below.
No. The best route is to use the CMS calculator to work out what payments should be made and then to make the payments directly between yourselves. This is the most economical and efficient way to proceed, and is referred to as a voluntary maintenance agreement or a ‘family-based arrangement’. If one of you fails to keep to that agreement, you would then need to make a formal application to the CMS for child maintenance to be enforced.
Note that if you are getting a divorce and you reach an agreement as to child maintenance it can be formalised and included as part of any final Court Order in your financial remedy proceedings. Any such Order would only, however, be binding for 12 months, after which time either parent can apply to the CMS for an updated assessment.
If you cannot come to an agreement privately, either of you can make a CMS application. The CMS will award maintenance where the payments are for a child under 16 years of age, or under 20 years of age and still in full-time education or training. Generally, the CMS will not make a calculation in the case of step-children.
It should be noted that the CMS cannot make a calculation for child maintenance where the parents of the children are still living together.
The Courts retain jurisdiction to order child maintenance in certain cases, which include:
The Court will use the CMS calculations as a starting point but has the discretion to vary the payments dependent on the circumstances of the case.
When a parent applies to the CMS, a calculation is made to find out exactly how much the payments will be. The calculation itself will take into account the following factors:
Gross income refers to income before tax and national insurance is deducted. You can find the CMS calculator here.
The amount of maintenance payable will vary if the paying parent has other children who are living with them.
While these sums may seem complicated, the calculation is actually quite simple to make. The government CMS calculator is free to use, and we are here to help. At The Divorce Surgery we have a team of barristers who are experts in family law. Our barristers are able to offer impartial advice and full assistance to couples in coming to an agreement on maintenance, including as part of a broader advice about the division of finances on divorce.