Child maintenance

A top priority for separating parents is sorting out financial support for their children. Trust in our experience to guide you through the options.

Our child maintenance lawyers can help you agree how much you or your former partner should pay, change the terms of an existing agreement, or help if maintenance payments have stopped. 

Our lawyers

Our family lawyers regularly work with a wide range of clients to secure appropriate child maintenance following divorce or separation. What they are known for is their strong experience in dealing with the more complex and tricky problems that can sometimes arise, and their practical solution-focussed approach. 


We can help with:

  • Child maintenance agreements
  • Child Maintenance Service (CMS) applications (including challenging assessments and decisions)
  • Advising on child maintenance top-up payments
  • Enforcing child maintenance payments
  • Varying child maintenance
  • Child maintenance disputes

What do you need to know

If you’re not married, you can’t claim maintenance from your ex for your own needs, but you can make financial claims on behalf of your child. This is because parents have a legal duty to financially contribute to their children’s upbringing regardless of whether they see them or not. The most common form of financial support for children is child maintenance – a regular, reliable financial support paid towards a child’s day-to-day living costs.

The parent without the main day-to-day care of the child (the parent who pays, sometimes called the non-resident parent or NRP) pays child maintenance to the parent with the main day-to-day care (the parent who receives maintenance, sometimes called the parent with care or PWC).


A child means someone who’s under 16, or under 20 if they’re in approved education or training. You can get child maintenance if:

  • you’re the child’s main carer
  • the other parent doesn’t live with you as part of your family

You’ll have to pay child maintenance if you:

  • are the child’s biological or adoptive parent
  • don’t live with the child as part of their family
  • are the child's legal parent

You and your ex can agree whatever maintenance arrangements suit you and your family. However, many people like to use the formula used by the Child Maintenance Service when they are asked to assess how much maintenance should be paid. The formula takes into account the paying parent's gross income (less pension contributions) and calculates a percentage figure of this amount. The formula takes into account things like if the child has overnight stays with the paying parent, or if the paying parent has other children living with them. You can find their useful calculator here.

There are three different ways to arrange child maintenance:

  • voluntarily with each other (although always make sure you write your agreement down to prevent any misunderstandings in the future)
  • The government-run Child Maintenance Service can calculate and collect the maintenance for you (but this comes at cost)
  • In certain circumstances, you can apply to the court.

If you can, it’s best for you to arrange child maintenance directly with your child’s other parent. It’s called making a private or ‘family-based’ arrangement. You could try using mediation if you are finding it difficult to reach an agreement. It avoids the need to go to the CMS who charge for their services, as well as avoiding costly and stressful court proceedings. It’s also much easier (and quicker) to adapt a private arrangement if your family’s circumstances change.

However, family-based arrangements are not legally enforceable, so they are not suitable for all families. To make the agreement legally binding, you can apply to the court to turn it into a consent order. However, either parent can opt out after 12 months and go to the CMS and ask them to calculate the maintenance payable.

If a private arrangement isn’t suitable for you, you can apply to the Child Maintenance Service. You’ll need to pay a £20 fee unless you’re under 19 or have experienced domestic violence or abuse. You can apply to the CMS if you:

  • can’t agree an arrangement with the other parent
  • don’t know how to contact the other parent
  • don’t want to have direct contact with the other parent

You might have to go to court to arrange maintenance. You’ll have to do this if the parent paying maintenance:

  • lives outside the UK
  • earns more than £3,000 a week and you want to top up the maintenance you get through the CMS

You’ll also have to go to court to ask for more maintenance if you have to pay for extra things like the cost of your child’s disability or their education. This is because the CMS doesn’t take these extra costs into account in its calculation.


Get in touch with a child maintenance specialist

We're ready to help you overcome whatever challenges you're facing. Working with our team of dedicated family lawyers, there's no area of family law where we can't assist you.

Contact our family and children law team or sign up for updates from us today.

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