How to make a private child maintenance arrangement
If you separate, you're both still responsible for the financial costs of bringing up any children.
If it’s possible, you can make these arrangements yourselves to support the children financially. These are called 'private child maintenance arrangements'.
Advantages of a private child maintenance arrangement
A private child maintenance arrangement costs nothing to set up. It can be simple and quick to arrange because you don't have to deal with any official rules or authorities. It means you can agree:
- between yourselves how much maintenance should be paid
- how and when payments should be made
- to change arrangements if circumstances change
- to pay for items instead of money - for example, buying a new school uniform instead of making one of your regular payments
Disadvantages of a private child maintenance arrangement
Private child maintenance arrangements aren't legally binding or enforceable. This means you can't force the other parent to keep paying if they stop.
It could be difficult to agree about child maintenance. For example, you might have left a violent relationship and it's unsafe for you to contact your ex-partner. Or you might disagree about how much a reasonable amount of child maintenance would be.
What to include in a private child maintenance arrangement
You’ll need to cover:
- how much maintenance should be paid
- how often payments should be made
- how and when the payments will be made
- a review date to talk about the arrangement and make any changes if it isn’t working.
Working out how much child maintenance should be paid
The amount of child maintenance is usually based on the income of the parent who doesn’t have the main day-to-day care of the child. You should only agree what is affordable and realistic.
You can use the child maintenance options calculator on GOV.UK to get an idea of how much you might pay or get if the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) has arranged child maintenance for you.
This figure can be a starting point to discuss how much child maintenance to agree on.
Change of circumstances
If you have a private child maintenance arrangement, you don’t have to report any changes in your circumstances to the other parent. It’s a good idea to include a review date so that you can reconsider the agreement and change it if necessary.
If you’re paying maintenance and your circumstances change before the review date, you might need to try and re-negotiate your arrangement. For example, if you lose your job, or if you have a baby with a new partner, you might not be able to afford the same amount of maintenance.
You can use the child maintenance calculator on GOV.UK to work out how much the new amount would be if the Child Maintenance Service has arranged child maintenance for you.
Making a private arrangement legally binding
If you and your partner want to make your private arrangement legally binding, you can apply to court to get a legal document confirming your agreement. This is called a ‘consent order’.
You can't apply for a consent order if the Child Maintenance Service has already arranged a maintenance agreement for you.
Read more about consent orders on GOV.UK.
If your ex-partner doesn’t comply with a consent order
If you’ve set up a consent order, and it doesn’t work, you can still apply to the Child Maintenance Service to arrange maintenance if the order has been in place for at least 12 months. This is called the '12-month rule'. You can also go back to court to get the consent order enforced.
Help to draw up a private child maintenance arrangement
Child Maintenance Service
If you can’t agree about child maintenance with your ex-partner, you can use the government’s Child Maintenance Service. The Child Maintenance Service can:
- work out how much maintenance needs to be paid
- take action if a parent doesn't pay the agreed amount
- review the payments if your circumstances change
You might want to get legal advice before agreeing a private child maintenance arrangement.
Legal aid is only available in some circumstances.
You might want to get financial advice before agreeing a private arrangement. For example, this could help you understand your ex-partner’s financial situation better and help you negotiate a more realistic private maintenance arrangement. You won’t get financial help to pay for a financial adviser.
If you’re finding it difficult to come to an agreement about maintenance, you could get the help of a family mediator. You both have to be willing to go to mediation. Any decisions you make there won’t be legally binding, unless you get the agreement drawn up in court.
In some cases, you might get legal aid to help with mediation costs.
You can search for a mediator on the Family Mediation Council website.
If your private arrangement breaks down
If your private arrangement breaks down, you could ask a family mediator to try and help you resolve any problems.
If you can't reach an agreement through mediation, you can use the government’s Child Maintenance Service to arrange child maintenance.
- Child Maintenance Options: www.cmoptions.org
Other useful information
To find local family mediators, go to:
- Family Mediation Council: www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk