Check what child maintenance arrangement is right for you

This advice applies to England. See advice for See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland, See advice for Wales

Child maintenance is money to help pay for your child’s living costs. It’s paid by the parent who doesn’t usually live with the child to the person who has most day-to-day care of the child. It’s also called ‘child support’.

A child means someone who’s under 16, or under 20 if they’re in approved education or training. You can check what counts as approved education or training on GOV.UK.

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

The main carer is usually a parent, but can also be the child's grandparent or guardian.

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

If you’re not sure if you’re a child’s legal parent, talk to an adviser.

The money is usually a regular payment towards your child’s everyday living costs. It could also be a payment towards things like bills or rent for the home where your child lives.  

You won’t need to pay tax on any child maintenance you get. If you’re a taxpayer you won’t get any tax relief on the child maintenance payments you make. 

If you get benefits and child maintenance

Child maintenance won’t affect any benefits you get. For example, you won’t get less Universal Credit if you also get child maintenance. 

If you’re entitled to Council Tax Reduction, you might get less help if you also get child maintenance - check with your local council.

If you get benefits and pay child maintenance

You'll still have to pay maintenance if you claim certain benefits or you’re part of a new partner’s benefit claim for a means-tested benefit like Universal Credit.

Making a child maintenance arrangement

There are 3 different ways to arrange child maintenance. Some people arrange maintenance voluntarily with each other, others have maintenance calculated and collected under a government scheme and some have arrangements made by a court order.


If you've been affected by domestic violence or domestic abuse

You can ask the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to arrange maintenance for you. You won't have to pay a fee.

Find out more about getting child maintenance from the CMS

Arranging maintenance voluntarily with each other

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 might be able to do this if you get on with your child’s other parent and know where they live. 

Find out more about arranging child maintenance with your child’s other parent yourself.

If you’re getting divorced or ending a civil partnership

You might be able to make arrangements for child maintenance as part of the process for ending your relationship. You can ask the court to put this in a court order called a ‘consent order’. 

You can find out more about making a consent order on GOV.UK. 

Arranging maintenance through a government scheme - the Child Maintenance Service

If the other parent is in prison or a student

You won't get any child maintenance under this scheme if the other parent is:

  • in prison

  • a full-time student with no income

You should tell the Child Maintenance Service if you find out the other parent has left prison or is no longer a full-time student with no income. The CMS will then look at your case again. 

If you don’t have enough money to live on, talk to an adviser

If a private arrangement isn’t suitable for you, you can apply to the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).

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

Find out how to apply to the CMS for child maintenance.

Arranging maintenance through the courts 

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. 

You can read more about getting child maintenance if a parent lives outside the UK on GOV.UK. 

You should get specialist advice on how to get a court order. Check how to find specialist advice.

Once a court order is in place, the court can force the other parent to pay maintenance if they don’t pay what's been agreed in the order.

If you both care for your child equally

You don’t have to pay child maintenance. The CMS will look at all the arrangements you have for caring for your child, not just how many nights they spend with each of you. You should keep a diary to show how often you care for your child so you can prove you share care equally.

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Page last reviewed on 29 October 2020