Posted by Julia Roxan on 10 January 2017

My partner and I are splitting up and we have two children still at school.  I am worried how I am going to pay for all their costs. What are the rules for child maintenance?

Both parents are legally responsible for the financial costs of bringing up their children. If you split up, and you’re the parent who doesn’t have the main day-to-day care of the children, you may have to pay money to the person looking after the children. This is called child maintenance (also called child support).

Child maintenance usually takes the form of regular financial payments towards the child's everyday living costs. Depending on your circumstances, you can either arrange this yourselves or use a government scheme. If your situation is complicated, you may need to get a court order.

A family-based arrangement is usually the quickest and easiest way to arrange child maintenance if you can agree. A family-based arrangement is not usually legally binding. So if the agreed payments aren’t made, you can’t go to court to get the other parent to pay. However, if the arrangement breaks down, you still have the option to use a government scheme for an enforceable agreement. This means that the parent who has to pay maintenance can be made to pay it.

Sometimes it's not possible to make a family-based arrangement. Perhaps because there's been domestic violence or abuse or because you have different ideas about how much money is needed to bring up children. Or maybe your family-based arrangement has broken down. In these cases, you may want to try using the government scheme.

The Government’s Child Maintenance Service (CMS) runs a legally based scheme called the 2012 Child Maintenance Scheme. This is open to all new applicants who are unable to make a family-based arrangement.

You should still get maintenance from the parent who should pay maintenance, even if they don't have contact with the children. This is because you're both legally responsible for the financial costs of bringing up the children. Paying maintenance does not give the other parent a right to see the children.

If the CMS arranges maintenance, they will make a calculation based on legal rules which take into account: the income of the parent who should pay maintenance, the number of qualifying children (these are the children you are caring for), the number of relevant other children (these are other children that are also being supported financially).

The calculation doesn’t take into account your income or how much you actually need to bring up the children. The amount you get will be fixed. However, the CMS will review the calculation each year.

To encourage family-based arrangements the CMS charges both parents for setting up a maintenance arrangement, the charges varying according to how much the CMS has to do – if they just set up the arrangement and the money is paid directly between the parents the charges are fixed and paid once at the outset. However, if the CMS has to collect the money from the other parent on an ongoing basis, then both of you pay for this.

You can use the website www.cmoptions.org to calculate how much the CMS would award you for each qualifying child so you have the basis for a negotiation, even for a family based arrangement. This will also tell you how much the fees would be if you have to use the CMS service.

The CMS deals with all new applications for child maintenance. However, a court can deal with new applications for child maintenance in some situations, for example: if your ex-partner lives outside the UK, or you have extra expenses which the CMS don’t take into account when making a maintenance calculation (eg extra costs of a child's disability), or your ex-partner has a very high income and you want more maintenance than would be awarded under the CMS calculation.

You'll need expert advice about what to do if your partner lives outside the UK, and how to apply to court for maintenance.

Once a court order is in place, the court can force a parent to pay maintenance if they fail to pay what's been agreed in the order.

Visit citizensadvice.org.uk for more information or if you need more advice, contact Citizens Advice Forest of Dean on 01594 823937; visit our website www.forestofdeancab.co.uk, or find us on Facebook or twitter.