Three children sit barefooted on a tree branch

Child maintenance and custody

Child Maintenance

How much child maintenance should be paid can be a complicated area. The Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’, previously the Child Support Agency or CSA) has a formula for maintenance in the UK based on the paying parent’s income. The formula is set and can be difficult to navigate, especially where the paying parent is self-employed or their income is not straight forward. It is also capped so that the maximum income of the paying parent which can be taken into account for child maintenance is £156,000 per year before tax.

However the CMS can only set the child support where the children and the paying parent live in the UK. If the CMS cannot make a calculation for maintenance then the court may make an order, depending on where the children are located.

There is a separate ability to apply to the court for capital sums from a parent for the benefit of children during their minority. If the paying parent’s income is higher than the £156,000 CMS cap, it is also possible to apply to the court for additional or top up maintenance.

Child Custody and Child Arrangements

Where children will live is often a key aspect, if not the most important aspect to many parents which needs to be resolved following separation or divorce. Many people think of this as custody or access to the children. The court in England and Wales refers to this as Child Arrangements and if the court is asked to intervene then it will set out the children’s time with each parent in a child arrangement order (previously ‘contact order’ and ‘residence order’).

You may wish to have a joint parenting arrangement, or what many people call joint custody. This is where the children have a home with each parent and their time with each parent is determined in the children’s best interests, in potentially any routine which works for your family.

It is also possible to obtain court orders determining issues such as schooling, religious upbringing or changing a child’s name – called specific issue orders – and to prevent certain actions for example to prevent a relocation – called prohibited steps orders.

Where step-parents or same sex couples wish to share parental responsibility of children they often think that the only route is via adoption. However it can be possible to deal with parental responsibility on a formal legal basis with an agreement or parental responsibility order. If you wish to discuss your situation please do feel free to contact us.

Where child protection issues arise, including domestic violence or the risk of child abduction then it is important that you seek urgent and professional legal advice.


When the child is born English law assumes the surrogate mother to be the legal mother of the child and the intended parents gain parental rights by asking the court to make a Parental Order. This order also ends the surrogate mother’s parental rights. A Parental Order can only be made after the child is born and once he or she is living with the intended parents. They must apply for the order within 6 months of the date of birth.

Contact our family law team

If you need legal advice on any aspect of children law, contact us to speak to one of our family law solicitors.

Call us now on 0800 422 0123 or contact us online.