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A Guide to Child Maintenance Payments

By: Abigail Taylor - Updated: 22 Aug 2019 | comments*Discuss
Child Support Maintenance Parent Child

The second in our series of separated dads guides relates to child maintenance and the issues surrounding it.

Child maintenance is designed to make parents responsible for maintaining their children. This means that non-resident parents (who do not live with the child) make periodical payments to resident parents (who do live with the child and are responsible for the child's day-to-day care).

Parents may agree these payments via a maintenance agreement. The Child Support Agency manages the child maintenance schemes that were introduced in 1993 and 2003, but only deals with existing applications. You can contact the National Helpline for advice on 08457 133 133.

The Child Maintenance Service manages the 2012 onwards child maintenance scheme. There is a £20 fee for applying to the Child Maintenance Service. In the first instance, you can call Child Maintenance Options on 0800 988 0988 for free advice.

What is a family-based child maintenance arrangement?

A family-based maintenance arrangement is an agreement between parties made out of court. This allows you to preserve good relations and address your wishes more specifically. It can also help reduce costs. If you and your former partner have a good working relationship, a family-based child maintenance arrangement can be an amicable way to agree matters mutually.

How is child maintenance calculated?

Gross income
Child maintenance via CMS is based upon your gross weekly income. If you are self-employed, your gross income is based upon your total taxable profits.

The CMS will calculate a suitable child support amount upon application by either the resident or non-resident parent. However parents may agree a different amount.

Much like when you pay council tax, certain categories of people pay a reduced rate or are exempt from paying child support altogether.

Exemptions and deductions
You may be exempt or qualify for a reduced rate if you:

  • have a gross weekly income of less than £7.
  • are in prison
  • are under 16 years old
  • are a 16- to 19-year-old who has left school but is registered for certaintypes of government-approved training courses
  • are a 16- to 19-year-old who is in full-time, non-advanced education (up
  • to and including A-level or equivalent standard
  • are a 16- to 17-year-old who receives Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or Income-related Employment and Support Allowance
  • are a 16- to 17-year-old who is included in their partner’s claim for Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or Income related Employment and Support Allowance
  • are in a care home or independent hospital, for which you are receiving help with fees.

Shared care
If your children stay with you overnight, you may be entitled to a reduction of your child maintenance payments. They must stay with you a minimum average of one night per week.

If you share care equally, neither of you has to pay maintenance to each other.

If you don’t tell the CSA/CMS about your shared care arrangements, they will estimate that the children stay with you one night a week. This means you’ll usually pay one-seventh less maintenance.

What happens if I have children from a new relationship?

If you have other children this could affect the amount of child support you will pay. Other children relevant to the equation are those for whom you (as the non-resident parent) or your partner receive child benefit for.

Other relevant children are taken into account before the calculation is completed.

When do Child Maintenance payments stop?

Child Support is paid until the relevant child is at least 16 years old.

If the child continues to study full-time (at least 12 hours per week) after the age of 16, you will still have to pay to support your child. Full-time studies include A-level standard but do not include university / professional studies after this level. Child maintenance payments will end when the course finishes or when the child turns 20 years old, even if they are still in full-time studies.

What happens if I dispute that I am the parent of a child?

When parentage is in dispute, a maintenance calculation should not be done by the CSA/CMS until the matter is resolved. There are some exceptions when parentage will be assumed however:

  • If you were married to the mother at any point between conception and birth of the child
  • You are registered as the father on the birth certificate
  • You refuse to take a DNA test or a DNA test shows you are the father
  • There has been a previous declaration of parentage
  • Court proceedings have decided you are the father

If you deny parentage, you must communicate this to the CMS/CSA and a DNA test can be arranged.

What could happen if I don't pay my child support payments?

The CSA/CMS has various enforcement methods available to ensure child support is paid. These include:
  • Deduction from earnings
  • Committal to prison for up to six weeks
  • Disqualification from driving

If one of you dies, what will happen to the children?

Whilst we never want to think about death, it is an important and responsible thing to consider when you have children. You need to know that they will be looked after should anything happen to you.


In your will, you have the opportunity to name a guardian (or guardians) to look after your children if you are no longer here to do so. A trusted family friend is a popular option. Guardians are not paid to look after your children, but will usually get money from your estate to help with the additional costs of caring for children. It is usually better to name just one guardian, as problems can be caused if co-guardians separate in the future. However, if the other parent has parental responsibility, then they can challenge any such provision in the will. As in all cases, the court’s main concern is the welfare of the child in question. The court will always put the child’s best interests first and this main issue will determine the outcome of any application for an order.

Other parent

If the resident parent were to die, the non-resident parent has rights to the children as a parent. This does not mean that you will automatically get residency of a child you have not previously lived with. However the court will look to see if you are a suitable parent to have full custody. If you are suitable, you will get custody over any named guardian in your partner's will. If you are not suitable, custody is likely to go to the named guardian, which is why it is important to name someone in your will who you trust.

We know that some of the dads on here don't have much free money. So we are offering the guides for free.

To help us develop more guides and other products to help separated dads we would really appreciate a small PayPal donation. Our content is written by a qualified barrister. It would really help us and we would appreciate it.

We hope that we can help you in some small way with your Child Maintenance application or questions.

Need to write to the CSA/CMS?

We have produced a series of letter templates to accompany the guides relating to maintenance and support. Why not take a look at these easy to use templates.

Check out the Separated Dads Forum... It's a great resource where you can ask for advice on topics including Child Access, Maintenance, CAFCASS, Fathers Rights, Court, Behaviour or simply to have a chat with other dads.

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My Son lives with me, stays Monday to Thursday night, his mum has him Friday to Sunday night or Monday morning (it rotates weekly) I work part time nights, and take him to school, I buy everything for him seeing as I am the main carerer, yet his mum wants maintenance from me, I believe she's entitled to nothing from me?
D - 22-Aug-19 @ 11:22 PM
Hi, I'm divorced with two children, one is at university and one has just turned 16. The one at Uni is out of the maintenance loop, the other will start college for A levels in a few weeks. Both live with me as my ex has decided to desert them. She has given up her job and is selling up to move to Wales to have a small holding and guest house with her new partner. She will have considerable savings from the house sale that will go over and above the purchase of a new property. The question is with no job I assume I can expect to get zero financial help for child maintenance from her even if I go via the CSA route. Has anyone any experience in this situation?
WithWith - 21-Aug-19 @ 10:34 AM
Hello all, I have two sons one at 18 years old who is going to start an apprenticeship, when do I stop paying for him, and a 17 year old son who has just started his basic training in the airforce and has pledged his allegiance to the queen. But he says he doesn’t think the airforce is for him so he is going to give it a couple of months the come out, so as for as I’m aware he has started in a full time job, so if he comes out of the airforce as he is 17 will I still have to pay for him as he as started a job then packed it in ?? And also if they don’t get jobs at what age can I stop paying for them ?? I appreciate any reply’s and explication’s cheer
Mickey - 19-Aug-19 @ 5:44 AM
Hi, I’m divorced as of June ‘19 and since Feb ‘19 have had my eldest 2 children (15/13) living with me in blocks of 9 nights of every 14 (their decision) and 7 nights through school holidays. My youngest (5yrs) stays with me 5 nights every 14 and 7 through the holidays. As a result I have not been paying OR claiming any child maintenance. My ex-wife has now said that she has had some advice from her legal team at work and that she’s entitled to claim child maintenance. I can’t see how this could be the case but interested to understand if this is true? I effectively cover 55% of the childcare. I have also left child allowance with my ex as I wouldn’t benefit from it. Thanks in advance.
Ian - 18-Aug-19 @ 8:20 AM
Hi all, I am just wondering, I have a 9 month old that is due to start part time nursery. Mother currently has full overnight care of the child as she only tends to let me have baby overnight if it suits her, but anyway won’t go into that. When he starts nursery me and my family will be having him from 8am to 8pm one day through the week and I’ll be having him myself 8am-8pm one weekend. If mum refuses to let me have him overnight can I still reduce the maintenance payment on the basis that during those days I am having to pay for his care all day? I’ve looked for articles but it only classifies it as ‘overnight’ Thanks in advance
Dale123 - 17-Aug-19 @ 12:25 AM
My partner has 2 children from a previous relationship. The boy lives with my partners parents. The girl also spends a lot of time there too maybe sleeps at moms once a week. The mother of the children on paper is the residential one, but the children don't actually live with her, (only on paper) hope that makes sense. To cut it short she dumps them at my partners parents 99% of the time. Weregularly take the children out along with my daughter. Buy what they need and more. Partner and ex have been split since the kids were 2&3. They're now 9&10. The father child relationship is well established and was so before I arrived on the scene (2 years ago) The mother is now trying to claim csa/cms. We have given her money numerous times for uniforms and other things and she has relatedly. Spent it on nights out or on herself. So we stopped doing this and decided to carry on with what we do, and buy them what they need when they ask or need it. If we had a bigger house we would let them live with us if they wish to, which is something they asked us about.(looking for bigger house) Several times we have given money for uniforms ect and then had to go out and buy them because she has spent the money.What can we do?
confused - 16-Aug-19 @ 2:18 PM
My partner has 2 children from a previous relationship. The boy lives with my partners parents. The girl also spends a lot of time there too maybe sleeps at moms once a week. The mother of the children on paper is the residential one, but the children don't actually live with her, (only on paper) hope that makes sense. To cut it short she dumps them at my partners parents 99% of the time. Weregularly take the children out along with my daughter. Buy what they need and more. Partner and ex have been split since the kids were 2&3. They're now 9&10. The father child relationship is well established and was so before I arrived on the scene (2 years ago) The mother is now trying to claim csa/cms. We have given her money numerous times for uniforms and other things and she has relatedly. Spent it on nights out or on herself. So we stopped doing this and decided to carry on with what we do, and buy them what they need when they ask or need it. If we had a bigger house we would let them live with us if they wish to, which is something they asked us about.(looking for bigger house) Several times we have given money for uniforms ect and then had to go out and buy them because she has spent the money.What can we do?
confused - 16-Aug-19 @ 2:15 PM
Hi I live in Canada with my Canadian partner who has 2 children with his ex they were born in Canada but she took them to Uk when they were 6 pays for the children to fly to Canada twice a year which is very costly he also flies to U.K. To visit the children as well does he still have to pay child support as he could no way afford to pay her and buy them flights to visit him? Please help
Jani - 6-Aug-19 @ 2:37 PM
my ex and I have two children aged 18 and 15 . he signed a financial agreement to pay £500 per month, this lasted 6 months, then he decided to reduce the payments to £400 per month, then again to £330 , this month he has reduced his payments to £150 that is £180 short, I am not sure how I am going to manage this month... I feel as though he takes no responsibility for the children....takes them out when I struggle to make ends meet. I work 3 jobs to pay for the mortgage and support the children, do I challenge him again or go back to my very costly solicitor ? I have never stopped access as I felt the children were old enough to make there own decision when they see him and where. After all they are not a commodity it took two people to make them.
frustrated - 5-Aug-19 @ 1:13 PM
Hi, I have two children, twins now 18. Both have now finished college with one starting an apprenticeship in September and the other going to uni. Can I now stop paying my ex the maintenance?. We had an agreement between us that I have kept to since we sorted it out. Thanks
Chaz - 5-Aug-19 @ 8:56 AM
I have 3 Daughters, my eldest and I are estranged and she has just turned 18 and starts university in September, when do I stop paying towards her ? I don't mind paying however I don't want to pay when I shouldn't be
Tom - 2-Aug-19 @ 10:20 AM
Hi can anyone offer advice pls. I have made my child maintenance payment to my ex today and she has returned the payment. Trying to claim that I have not paid the money. What is the best action to take next?
Ht124 - 1-Aug-19 @ 6:42 PM
Hi I have a 15 year old daughter that lives with her mum, I have always paid towards her up keep plus pocket money on top. I have also bought her clothes and gave extra to daughter when she needed it if I had it. I am due to move in with my girlfriend and have heard my ex can also claim money from girlfriends earnings, is this right
Pmcc - 1-Aug-19 @ 1:10 AM
Hi I have a very complex case the mother of my 2 children walked out on them after she made a claim against me but she also made a claim for her niece aswell my son and daughter have lived with me since the case was started 7 months later I am still paying for 2 children one that lives with me and one that is not mine how long is it acceptable for them to take to sort out my case also my niece is having regular contact with her father that she has not seen for years and he has never paid a penny towards her any help or advice would be gratefully received
H - 31-Jul-19 @ 9:40 PM
Hi, can anyone help me with a query? Do I pay less child maintenance if I have re-married and me and my new wife have had a baby together, and my new wife has 3 children from a previous marriage who I now support.
Cstewart - 31-Jul-19 @ 7:44 PM
What is so wrong with each parent being solely responsible for the cost of supporting the children when in their care? Two households, two finances. We are in modern times gone are the days when one parent is the provider and the other the child care.Both parents can equally provide and care for the children and this is the position that all divorces and separation should commence from. If you can’t afford to support the children during your time with them then the other parent should get the chance to increase their time with the children. This stops CMS financially rewarding one parent for limiting the others access and help to ensure the best arrangements can be made for the children. It’s also should not be called child maintenance, no one is making sure the children see any of the payments it is ex-spousal/partner maintenance payment. No other aspect of life are you forced to handover your money with no say on how it is spent... at least with tax you get to vote and have some say.
CMS is broken - 30-Jul-19 @ 12:23 PM
Hi All, Hoping you can advise me. My son is 16yo just left school and going to college. I have always paid my money to my ex through our own agreement. I have now been asked to pay £150 towards his bus pass. I have agreed to increase my payments to incorporate but my ex has rejected it. And said she doesn’t want anymore money !! Am I being reasonable. Help please.
Chris - 29-Jul-19 @ 8:57 PM
Further to my last post does anyone feel that google and gov. does not give any straight answers around any questions people may have. Everything is so cut throat on this that you kind of have to read between the lines. Mr M I feel for you and following the information I have read you my friend are responsible foe three children since all three depend on you and so whatever you were paying your ex for your son, if you have never changed this simply because you weren't aware, having more dependents does mean sharing a set amount of your financial income around. You need to speak to the CMA as you may find you should be paying her less as they will take into account 25% for three kids and divide up, rather than you paying 15% for just one, which I a read as never having changed. Hope this of some help pal. Regards Richie
Richie - 27-Jul-19 @ 6:43 PM
Hi Robbo, I saw your post for June and wondered if you;ve had a response to this as my son whom I don't see is also in college and currently 18 an 4 months old. He supposedly is starting another college course in September 2019 but I have no proof of the course or that he would even carry on attending if he did get if he later left. Does anyone know our rights as dads as I spoke to the CMA about this and legally he is an adult and so covered under GDPR around what we as parents are allowed to know since legally not his guardian anymore, yet financially still responsible because of any college course that is 12hrs or more a week. I was advised by the CMA that if I was not given proof by him and his mother and the college to some degree I could be better cancelling my maintenance until challenged simply because they could then look into and validate the proof. I pay voluntary and always have and just would like this sorting. I welcome anyone's thoughts or similar situations currently. Regards Richie
Richie - 27-Jul-19 @ 6:30 PM
I have one son and my ex has tried to palm off another as mine. He has since been removed from the cms claim. He and his brother come to my house regularly...can I claim from her?
J C Marshall - 26-Jul-19 @ 4:38 PM
I pay £658 per month child maintenance plus some debt repayments we accrued together.I have no problem with this - my kids so my responsibility. What bugs me is that I feed my children at least once a week (breakfast, lunch and dinner) when they don't stay with me.My mother feeds them another 2 days a week. This all seems a little rich to me. Then she taps me up for school bus fair on top of this.
Jabba1974 - 26-Jul-19 @ 12:37 PM
If the father was 15 at time of conception, girlfriend 16 (having supposedly been on the pill) He has had no involvement in the child’s life. Told the ex-girlfriend he categorically would never be involved immediately they discovered she was pregnant (with plenty of time to terminate if that was her choice) Was told by the ex-girlfriend she would never ask for a penny. Going to university Sept, probably needing to work part time to fund it. Living in halls. Will he have to pay maintenance and if so full amount? Thanks
Marie - 19-Jul-19 @ 10:42 PM
I have a family arrangement with my X to pay child maintenance for my 17 year old who has just completed her A levels. I was told that payment stops when she finishes her exams, which she has just finished. When exactly do I stop paying right now or in September.
And - 19-Jul-19 @ 4:47 PM
My daughter is 17 and has just finished her A level exams. I was told I would be expected to pay CM till she finish A level. We have a family arrangement where I pay her every month. My daughter is planning to go Uni. There are conflicting statements as to when to stop paying some say as soon as they finish A level others say September,when exactly do I stop paying?
And - 19-Jul-19 @ 4:40 PM
I always had a fair family arrangement worked out with my ex for payments. But as soon as I met somebody and moved in with her, my ex took revenge and got CMS on me. They take a ridiculously unfair amount now based on my wage. My ex, who's 12 years older than me and got herself pregnant when I was only 20 years old by going off the pill and not telling me, works in a bank and makes three times as much as me, has her own property worth over £1,000,000,000, and wealthy parents to back her up, and a new partner who makes a lot in a finanace job. I work for a charity, no property and no parents to back me up and live in London, where for my generation, my rent alone is three times what my ex pays for her whole morgage. The CMS don't take context into account which is just ridiculous. I've also always had to fight to see my son, getting threats of police being called or being taken to court by my ex. Even though CMS are quick to take my money, they don't care if I don't get access to seeing my son. And getting hit with child maintance has kept me away more than usual the last few years. My son is now all screwed up, got sectioned for a few months and has now dropped out of school at age 15. He seems to love being a NEET (not in emplolyment, entertainment or training) and we have not been able to convince him otherwise. I called CMS to see what happens when he hits 16 in this circumstance. I'm told that I'll have to still pay his mother till he is 20 years old! That's just so unfair and insane. At 18 I moved across the world and lived on my own. My current partner has a brother which did the same at 16 years old and was in full time work. This system is so curropt. The number one reason for death for men in this country is suicide and I've had a friend kill himself because he had no money because of CMS, insecure housing and not being able to get access to his daughter. But nobody seems to care.
Sam - 19-Jul-19 @ 12:57 PM
O had a 10 month relationship with someone and as soon as she got pregnant she dumped me and it becamr very obvious she pretended to like me just to get a baby/money from me. Now babys here she barely lets me see him and all she messages about is getting money. We had an agreement for money (same as i pay my first borns mother) but she wanted more and reported me to cms. She didnt tell them about the other kid and now gets less than original agreement. My question is. Since i was used to have this baby under false pretenses am i able to cut off my parental right/support to kid and leave her to it herself as she wants?
Dj - 15-Jul-19 @ 5:51 PM
I split from my ex wife several years ago and have two boys. To start with I was having them on average 1-2 days a week. Since December 2017 I have been having them on average 2-3 days a week to help my ex out with her job but she hasn’t declared this to CMS. I have contacted them but they stay they won’t change it unless she agrees that the change has happened. She just tells them it’s still being discussed. Where do I stand?
TL - 15-Jul-19 @ 5:03 PM
Hi, I have a mortgage with my ex that I pay with alongside child maintenance which includes finance agreements etc that were made during relationship, I’ve paid this for three years since I moved back to my parents. I now have another child and cannot continue to live in one bedroom, now that I’m moving out I cannot afford either the mortgage or maintenance due to renting and supporting my other half and child or my son that I have every weekend. My ex doesn’t pay or provide the things my son needs such a sufficient clothes whilst he’s with me, nappies that are needed, doesn’t cut his hair or even some of the more basic things such as cutting his nails. What is classed as shared care? How much maintenance should I pay for? I’ve been told by csm that the only thing that comes above child maintenance is council tax (typical government) but paying the maintenance that’s been asked would mean I couldn’t afford my rent and so make my other child homeless.. where do I stand?
Wils - 14-Jul-19 @ 6:51 PM
Hi will I pay less now my son has left school and started college he also has a part time job or will it remain the same as I've been paying whilst he was at school
Skud - 14-Jul-19 @ 2:08 PM
I’ve had full custody of two childrenwith no child support from ex partner for ten yrs one child has gone to live with the ex now he wants support off me after I paid 100% for both all along I have one of his daughters still lol at home he has one what’s the protocol? Do I pay and claim for other child back?
Parkin - 13-Jul-19 @ 3:03 PM
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