You may also be interested in reading our frequently asked questions about maintenance.
Sorting it out yourselves
If you think you can sort out child maintenance between yourselves, you don’t need to use the courts or the CMS. A private agreement is an arrangement between you and the other parent about how much maintenance will be paid. You can use the child maintenance calculator to work out what the statutory maintenance payments might be. Child Maintenance Options provides an example private agreement but it is explicitly stated to be not legally binding. If you want a binding private agreement you may need to speak to a Resolution member about this.
Where can I get information about my options?
Child Maintenance Options is a free service providing information and support for separating parents. To speak to someone today, call 0800 988 0988 or visit the Options website.
There’s plenty of help available for setting up private agreements, and there are lots of benefits to making a private agreement:
- It’s fast and simple to set up
- There’s not much paperwork to do – just fill in a private agreement form to record your arrangement
- It can help to keep a friendly relationship between you and the other parent
- You can have a flexible arrangement. For example:
Agree between yourselves on how much payments will be, and when they will be made. If any of your circumstances change, you can alter your arrangement immediately, as long as you both agree to it. Payments can be flexible, with payments in kind such as school uniforms or shoes for your child instead of money.
Child Maintenance Options can talk you through the positives and negatives of private agreements, and help you decide if this option is suitable for you and your child.
Note that the example private agreement offered by Child Maintenance Options is not legally binding. This means that if one or other parent does not keep to the agreement then it cannot be enforced. If you want a binding private agreement you can seek advice from a Resolution member.
If you do not know the income of the parent who pays or if that person has their own company through which they can control the income they receive you may need to seek legal advice.
If a private agreement breaks down what are your options?
If you and your ex work out child maintenance between yourselves it won’t usually be legally binding. This means that if the agreement breaks down, you would not be able to enforce it and would need to ask the CMS to take over. You would begin again at the start of the CMS process.
If you’re not entirely comfortable with this, you could think about making a private agreement that would be legally binding and there are ways that this can be done. To start with you would both need to be quite clear that you were entering into a legal agreement and you would need to record that fact. Then if the agreement was properly entered into and broke down, you would have the option of enforcing it in the small claims court instead of starting over with the CMS.
If you do decide that you’d like to record your private agreement as a legally binding agreement then we’d strongly urge you to talk it through with a lawyer first.
A trusted lawyer can play a big part in helping to sort out issues involving the care of the children, the home and the finances. Wherever you are there is a Resolution member near you, ready to help and able to talk you through mediation, collaborative law and the different processes you can use to sort things out.
Using the Child Maintenance Service (CMS)
The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) is the government’s statutory child maintenance service. The CMS can calculate and collect child maintenance for you, and can act as a trusted third party if you don’t want any contact with the other parent of your child.
The CMS can:
- find the other parent, even if you don’t know their address
- collect and enforce payments
- protect both parents’ privacy if they don’t want contact
Either parent can apply to the CMS. The arrangements are legally binding but aren’t as flexible as a private agreement. For example it can take a while to change your payments if either of your circumstances change.
The CMS provide a calculation-only service called Maintenance Direct. This means that the CMS works out the amount of child maintenance due, but you pay each other directly, rather than through the CMS. Maintenance Direct is only suitable if you are happy to agree between yourselves when and how the money will be paid.
The CMS will be on hand to give guidance if you need a new calculation because something has changed, and they can step in if the non resident parent doesn’t make the payments.
It is important to seek specialist advice to understand how the different arrangements work and what happens if the arrangements you make break down.
There are some cases where the courts can help with child maintenance, for example if the parent who pays lives overseas, is a very high earner, or if there are school fees to pay.
If you are able to reach informal agreement between yourselves about child maintenance or are using the Child Maintenance Service then you may decide not to seek legal advice. We think it is always a good idea to have a chat with a lawyer just to make sure you’re not missing something. This is especially true if your circumstances are complicated or fall outside the CMS.
The child maintenance regulations are vast and can be complicated or unusual, depending on your circumstances. It is worth speaking with a lawyer to see whether this is or could be you.
There are some cases where the CMS does not have the power to be involved and in these cases you could apply to the Court for an order:
- For example if the parent without day-to-day care lives overseas
- For stepchildren. Divorcing parents usually have a responsibility to provide financial support for all children who’ve lived as part of the family
- To top up maintenance if the parent without the day-day care is a high earner (usually more than £3,000 per week gross)
- If money is needed for school or university fees
- If money is needed to meet the costs of a child’s disability
- For children who have completed secondary education
If your circumstances involve any of these issues and you cannot reach an agreement, then it should be dealt with by the Court rather than the CMS and it would be a good idea to talk things through with a Resolution member, so that you can better understand the court’s approach.
Already in Court to sort other financial matters?
If you and your ex have privately reached agreement about child maintenance, but are in court to sort out other financial matters, pensions or housing for example, then you could ask the Court to include your child maintenance agreement as part of the final court order. This has the benefit of potentially giving you the option to ask the Court to enforce the agreement if necessary and you don’t wish to use the CMS. Care will be needed in creating the right form of order. Generally matters could be returned to the CMS 12 months after the order is made.
Getting nowhere with the CMS?
If you have a complaint about the CMS and their handling of your case which you have been unable to resolve through their regular complaints channel a Resolution member may be able to help.
More information about your options
Child Maintenance Options is a free service providing information and support for separating parents. To speak to someone today, call 0800 988 0988 or visit the Options website. For specialist legal advice see our directory to find a Resolution member.