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How to calculate child support: FAQs

We have produced a detailed guide containing everything you need to be aware of regarding child support and how to calculate it.

How does child maintenance work?

Child maintenance payments are paid if both parents are not living in the same household as the child. The payment is made by the parent who has the child(ren) for less than 50% of the nights in the year.

To be eligible your child needs to be under 16, or under 20 if they are in full-time education up to and including A level or equivalent.

You need to live in the UK as your main home and have the right to live here.

You can apply if you are:

  • either parent
  • a grandparent with main day-to-day care of the child
  • the child’s guardian
  • a child over 12 living in Scotland.

How much maintenance should a parent pay per child?

You can calculate how much child maintenance you are to pay (or receive) online using the calculator.

As the paying parent, you will need the following details:

income, including state pension
- any benefits you receive
- the number of nights the child(ren) stays with you
- how many children you have
- whether you are already paying for any other child(ren)
- employment details
- private pension contributions

If the paying parent’s gross weekly income is more than £3,000, (the equivalent of £156,000 gross each year), the receiving parent can consider an application to the court for additional child maintenance known as a ‘top up’ provision.

Do I have to pay child maintenance if I have 50% custody?

You will not have anything to pay through the Child Maintenance Service if you are:

  • sharing care (nights) equally with the other parent
  • a full-time student with no income
  • in prison

(Note: custody (or residence) is now called ‘lives with’)

Can a mother be made to pay child maintenance?

Yes of course. Either parent can be made to pay child maintenance. It’s paid by the parent, whether that be the mother or the father, who doesn’t usually live with the child. It is paid to the parent who has the day-to-day primary care of the chid(ren).

Who decides who pays child maintenance?

Child maintenance payments can be agreed by the parents voluntarily. For example, they can use the online child maintenance calculator to decide how much child maintenance will be payable by the paying parent. Once agreed, they can put a standing order in place.

Alternatively, if the paying parent is not willing to agree voluntarily, the receiving parent can apply to the Child Maintenance Service. A small fee will be deducted by the Child Maintenance Service from each parent if the service is used.

How often is child maintenance paid?

If parents agree to child maintenance by consent, it is up to the parents to decide how often the child maintenance is to be paid. If the parents use the Child Maintenance Service, this is usually dependent on when the paying parent receives their income or pension. Most payments are made weekly (equating to 52 payments per year) or monthly (equating to 12 payments per year).

If the paying parent receives state benefits, child maintenance will be paid in line with when the paying parent receives their benefits. This is usually every 2 weeks (equating to 26 payments per year) or every 4 weeks (equating to 13 payments per year).

What happens if a parent doesn't pay child maintenance?

You can apply for child maintenance payments via the Child Maintenance website. If the paying parent still fails to pay the Child Maintenance Service can take enforcement action and seek an order that they pay the unpaid amount (arrears). They can also instigate legal action, such as instructing bailiffs, securing a charging order over property and freezing bank accounts.

Do I have to pay child maintenance if the other parent earns more than me?

You are obliged to pay child maintenance regardless of your ex’s circumstances and salary.

Can I claim unpaid child maintenance from several years ago?

Only if the unpaid child maintenance payments were arranged through the Child Maintenance Service (or a court). If they were, enforcement measures can be taken to recoup the arrears if the paying parent is refusing to pay them.

Do I get ‘back pay’ once child maintenance is agreed?

If the paying parent is willing to voluntarily make the payments they have missed in the past then this is possible. Otherwise see above.

Can I refuse access to a parent who is paying child maintenance?

No. This is a separate issue. The Child Maintenance Service do not deal with contact arrangements and it is for the parents to arrange this between themselves or ask the court to regulate the child arrangements. There are other forms of non-court resolution, such as mediation, if appropriate.

(Note: Access (or contact) is now called ‘spends time with’)

What age does child maintenance stop?

Child maintenance arrangements apply if your child is under 16 (or under 20 if they are still in full-time education).

How long does it take to agree child maintenance payments?

The online child maintenance calculator provides the amount payable instantly. This can be put in place by the parents immediately.

If the paying parent does not agree to a voluntary arrangement you can apply via the Child Maintenance Service. It can take up to 4 weeks for it to be implemented. It can be quicker, but it can equally take longer.

Can child maintenance go directly to the child?

Not usually. Unless it is agreed between the parents, the payment is payable to the primary carer / parent.

Payments can be made in two ways as explained above:

  • by arranging with the primary caregiving parent
  • via the Child Maintenance Service

Can I agree child support in a court order?

Yes, it can be recorded in a financial order made on divorce/dissolution, but it may be altered by an application to the Child Maintenance Service by either parent once 12 months has elapsed from the date of the order.

How often is child support reviewed?

Assessments made by the Child Maintenance Service are reviewed annually and other processes are in place if either parent seeks a variation/review or to challenge information provided.

What happens if the paying parent earns more than £156,000 gross each year?

You should seek expert advice from a family lawyer to ascertain whether your case is suitable to seek a ‘top up’ order, i.e. a higher amount than that assessed by the Child Maintenance Service. You will need to secure a maximum assessment from the CMS before applying to court.

What do I do if the paying parent lives or works abroad?

If they work abroad for certain British organisations, for example:

  • as a civil servant
  • as a member of the armed forces
  • for a company based and registered in the UK

You may be able to apply via the Child Maintenance Service. Otherwise, you may need to obtain an order from the court and seek to enforce it overseas.

What happens if the primary caregiving parent lives abroad?

You should seek expert legal advice in the jurisdiction in which they reside.

If you would like further guidance on any parts of calculating child support, please speak to our expert child law solicitors.

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