How are maintenance payments calculated?

Child maintenance payments play a key role in ensuring the financial support of children whose parents are no longer in a relationship. This article will explore how maintenance payments are calculated in England and Wales and important points to be aware of.

What is child maintenance?

Child maintenance is a regular payment made by the paying parent to the receiving parent of a child following divorce or separation. It can also be payable even if the parents have never been in a relationship.  The maintenance payments cover the child’s living costs when one of the parents does not live with the child. The person paying child maintenance, the “paying parent”, is the person who does not have the main day-to-day care of the child. The receiving parent is the person who does have the main day-to-day care of the child. 

A child maintenance agreement must be in place if the child is under 16, or under 20 and still in full time education, up to and including A level or equivalent. Child maintenance payments may be agreed privately between parents, or can be put in place more formally by the Child Maintenance service (CMS). The CMS calculates weekly child maintenance payments using a six step process, which takes into account various factors with the aim of arriving at a fair figure. It is possible to use the CMS calculator and use that figure privately and ‘informally’ between parents.

Working out child maintenance

If the CMS is contacted by the parent with the main day-to-day care of the child and is asked to formally assess the amount payable, the following steps are undertaken.

Step 1 – working out income

The CMS will gather information from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to ascertain the paying parent’s annual gross income. The CMS will also check if the paying parent is receiving benefits. Tax credits, student grants and loans will not be counted as income.

Step 2 – looking at factors affecting income

The CMS will check for factors which could increase or decrease the gross income amount, for example, pension payments, and/or other children the paying parent is supporting. 

Either parent may ask for extra income, assets or expenses to be taken into account, such as:

  • Rental income exceeding £2,500 a year;
  • Interest and dividends from savings and investments exceeding £2,500 a year;
  • Any income the paying parent may be diverting to avoid it being included in the calculation (for example, by giving it to someone else); and
  • Assets like shares, stocks, gold or money worth more than £31,250.

As the paying parent, you may ask for the following expenses to be taken into account:

  • Costs of keeping in contact with a child you pay maintenance for (for example, fuel to travel between your home and the child’s home with the other parent);
  • Costs of supporting a child with a disability or long-term illness who lives with you;
  • Repaying debts from a previous relationship;
  • Boarding part of boarding school fees for a child you pay maintenance for; and/or
  • Mortgage, loan or insurance payments for the home you used to share with the receiving parent – if the receiving parent and your child still live there.

The CMS will then convert the yearly gross income into a weekly figure.

Step 3 – applying child maintenance rates

There are 5 different rates and the one that applies will depend on the gross weekly income of the paying parent:

Gross weekly incomeRateWeekly amount
Unknown or not providedDefault£38 for 1 child, £51 for 2 children, £64 for 3 or more children
Below £7Nil£0
£7 – £100, or if the paying parent gets benefitsFlat£7
£100.01 – £199.99ReducedCalculated using a formula
£200 – £3,000BasicCalculated using a formula

If the paying parent’s gross weekly income exceeds £3,000, the receiving parent may apply to the Family Court for extra child maintenance in the form of a ‘top up’ order.

Step 4 – other children

The CMS will take into account how many children the paying parent has to pay maintenance for, whether this has been arranged privately by the parents, or through the CMS.

Step 5 – weekly amount of child maintenance

Using all the gathered information, the CMS will decide the weekly child maintenance amount.

Step 6 – shared care

Occasionally the paying parent’s child may stay overnight with the paying parent. Where this is the case, CMS will make a deduction from the weekly child maintenance amount based on the average number of ‘shared care’ nights in a week.

Changes to child maintenance payments

The amount due for child maintenance payments may change as a result of the CMS’ annual review of a case. Each parent may apply for a variation. 

There are certain changes which must be reported to CMS by law, such as:

  • A change in how often the child stays overnight with the other parent;
  • A change of address (CMS must be notified within 7 days of moving);
  • A change in who the child’s main carer is; or
  • A change of bank details. 

Failure to provide requested information or the deliberate provision of false information could result in a fine of up to £1,000.

If a parent is unhappy with the CMS calculation of maintenance payments, they must ask for the decision to be looked at again in a process called ‘Mandatory Reconsideration’, before they will be allowed to submit an appeal to the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal.

How we can help

It is important to reach a child maintenance agreement that is in the best interests of the child, and fair to both parents. Whether you need support in reaching a child maintenance agreement privately, or you would prefer to use the CMS process, our experienced team of family lawyers at Edwards Family Law will help you navigate your options and help you reach a suitable solution.