What is child maintenance?
Child maintenance is regular, reliable financial support which helps towards a child’s everyday living costs. The parent who does not have main day-to-day care of the child provides child maintenance to the parent who does.
There are three ways you can arrange to pay or receive child maintenance:
1). through a private arrangement
2). through the statutory system, provided by the Child Support Agency (CSA)
3). through a court order
Child Maintenance Options
A good place to get information about your maintenance choices is from the Child Maintenance Options service. It is a government-funded online and telephone service which gives parents information and support about child maintenance so that they can decide for themselves which arrangement best suits their circumstances.
The Options service is free and confidential. It is separate from the Child Support Agency and completely impartial.
The website is simple to use and can signpost you to practical support for any other issues you may face as a single mum such as housing and benefits. You can visit www.cmoptions.org or call the free helpline number 0800 988 0988 and speak to a specialist. Lines are open from 8am to 8pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 4pm Saturday.
Option 1 â€“ Private Arrangement
Separated and separating parents can set up a private arrangement to sort out child maintenance, without using the courts or the CSA. There are lots of benefits to having a private arrangement:
- It can be quick and easy to set up
- Thereâ€™s little paperwork to do
- It could help keep things friendly between you and the other parent
- There are no set rules so you can be more flexible. For example:
– You can agree between yourselves on how much payments should be and when they should be made.
– If either parent’s circumstances change your arrangement can change straight away if you both agree to it.
– You could agree to offer or receive financial support in kind; for example the parent with the main day to day care could pay for clothes, music lessons or school trips.
However, a private arrangement is not legally binding and therefore parents will have to rely on each other to stick to the agreed terms as well as be honest about any change in circumstances.
Option 2 – CSA Arrangement
If you feel a private arrangement wouldn’t work in your situation, the government’s statutory child maintenance service, currently run by the Child Support Agency, can collect child maintenance for you.
It can do the following:
- Try to trace the other parent if their address is unknown
- Collect and enforce payments
- Allow you to avoid any contact with the other parent
Either parent can make an application to the CSA. The CSA isn’t as flexible as a private arrangement. If circumstances change it can take a while for the payments to be adjusted.
The CSA also offers Maintenance Direct, which is where child maintenance is calculated by the CSA but not collected. The parent without the main day-to-day care makes payments directly to the other parent. Maintenance Direct allows parents to be more flexible; you can agree between yourselves how and when money is paid and the amounts can be varied if circumstances change. The CSA is still available if a new calculation needs to be made or to step in if the non-resident parent doesn’t make the payments that are due.
You can get an idea of how much child maintenance you might pay or receive through the CSA by using this link https://secureonline.dwp.gov.uk/csa/v2/en/calculate-maintenance.asp
Option 3 – Consent Order
An alternative way of sorting out child maintenance is through the courts, but this varies depending on where you live.
Consent order (in England and Wales)
This is an official ruling made by a court. It is normally used when parents are deciding a divorce settlement or sharing assets. Both parents normally have to work with solicitors to agree the amount of child maintenance to be paid. They then apply to the court to turn the agreement into a consent order.
A consent order means the court can enforce payment if the parent without main day-to-day care of the child fails to pay. However, getting a consent order can be expensive. Legal aid won’t cover these costs if you are only going to court to get a consent order for child maintenance.
Minute of agreement (in Scotland)
If you live in Scotland, a child maintenance arrangement can be made into a legally binding contract called a minute of agreement. The sheriff officer can collect and enforce payments if the parent without main day-to-day care of the child breaks the agreement.
For more information it is best to call the Options service or visit the website.