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Child maintenance payments

When to involve the court in calculating child maintenance payments

The current child maintenance system encourages those paying and receiving maintenance to reach a private agreement. As a starting point, there is a maintenance calculator available on the government website to provide an estimate based on the statutory scheme.

What happens if we can’t agree on maintenance payments between ourselves?

If you cannot reach a private agreement, the next step would be to use the statutory system administered by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). In order to register for the scheme, the first step is to call Child Maintenance Options in order to discuss your maintenance arrangements and help to determine best way forward. They will then provide a reference number for making the application to the CMS. It costs £20 to apply for the CMS to manage your maintenance.

Calculations for payments are based on gross income and financial information obtained directly from HMRC. Once the calculation is made, a copy will be sent to both parents to check the accuracy of the figures. If you don’t agree with the calculation made, for example if you believe that the paying parent’s income is significantly higher that the figure used in the calculation, then you should request that the CMS review the decision by means of a mandatory reconsideration as a matter of urgency. The court does not have the power to assist in these circumstances.

Maintenance payments through the CMS can be paid either by the Direct Pay scheme or the Collect & Pay service. There is a collection fee for using the Collect & Pay service.

When can you apply to the court for financial support of children?

In most instances it is not possible to apply to the court for financial support. Instead child maintenance should be paid based on a private arrangement or by using the CMS. The court does not have the power to make or vary child maintenance orders when the CMS should be used.

However, in limited circumstances an application to the court may be required either as part of financial remedy proceedings during divorce or using Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989. These situations include the following:

  • The court can make a top-up order when the CMS maintenance calculation demonstrates that the paying parent’s gross income exceeds £156,000 a year (i.e. £3000 per week) from all sources. This is because the CMS will not take into consideration income over £156,000 when making a maintenance calculation.
  • The court can make a freestanding or top-up order when the child has expenses attributable to a disability. This is determined on a case by case basis and takes into account expenses such as the costs of a carer or the cost of an adapted home.
  • The court can make an order in relation to contributions to the costs of school fees, and it will usually need to be shown that the child is currently being privately educated or that there was an agreement that the child would be privately educated. This may also include boarding school fees and additional expenses when they occur in connection with the child’s education. This is to be determined on a case by case basis on the facts.
  • The court may make an order when one or more of the parties reside outside the UK. Please note that even if the court has jurisdiction to make the order, this order may not be enforceable in the overseas jurisdiction and this will depend on factors such as the presence of a reciprocal agreement.

Contact a family law solicitor

If you would like legal advice about reaching a private agreement on child maintenance or applications to the court, please call us on 0800 422 0123 or contact us online.


Your key contacts

Rayner Grice


Rayner advises on the issues that arise for an individual following the breakdown of a relationship in relation to divorce/civil partnership dissolution, their financial affairs and their children.
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Adam Maguire


Adam specialises in divorce and family law. He advises clients regarding all aspects of private family law including cohabitation, separation, divorce and related financial issues, disputes concerning children and nuptial agreements.
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Philippa Yeo


Philippa is committed to helping couples navigate all aspects of the legal process on the breakdown of their relationship in a pragmatic, collaborative and family-focused way including supporting couples to reach arrangements for their children and achieve healthy future co-parenting relationships.
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