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Agreeing maintenance between you

This advice applies to England

You can arrange child maintenance directly with each other. This is called making a private or ‘family-based’ arrangement. 

You don’t have to follow any rules for a private arrangement. You can include whatever you want in it as long as you both agree. For example, you could agree one of you will cover the cost of a holiday or school uniforms instead of making regular payments. 

You should negotiate a realistic amount or the one of you who’ll be paying might fall behind with payments. 

It’s a good idea to write down what you agree and keep a note of any discussions you had. That might help if you have any disagreements in the future. 

If you’re not sure if a private arrangement is right for you, check how to choose a child maintenance arrangement

Check what you should include in your arrangement

You’ll need to agree:

  • the amount of maintenance that will be paid

  • when payments should be made 

  • how payments should be made 

  • a date to review the arrangement

You don’t have to get or pay a fixed amount of money every month. You could, for example, agree the one of you who’ll be paying will pay:

  • household bills

  • for school uniforms or holidays

  • the rent or mortgage on the home where the child lives

If you’re having problems agreeing an arrangement

You can get help from a mediator if you’re both willing to agree to mediation. You can read more about mediation

Working out how much child maintenance is reasonable 

You can use the child maintenance calculator on GOV.UK to get an idea of how much the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) would ask the one of you who’ll be paying to pay. You can use this figure as a basis for your negotiations. 

To use the calculator, you’ll need to know if the one of you who’ll be paying gets any benefits and how much they earn. If you both look after your child, you’ll also need to know how many nights each week the child spends with each of you. 

Go to the child maintenance calculator.

If you need help, talk to an adviser

Arranging when and how you should get payments 

You should agree when payments are made. They could be weekly or monthly if the payments will be regular. 

If you’ve agreed one of you will pay a bill or the rent, the money could be transferred just before those payments are due. 

It’s a good idea to agree how payments should be made - for example, by standing order into a bank account. This means payments are more likely to be on time and there’ll be a record of them. 

You should keep a record of all the payments you get or make to avoid any disagreements in future. For example, if one of you is paying bills, you should both keep your own record of what was paid, when and which bill the money was for. 

Reviewing the arrangement

You should review the agreement at least every year.

You can use the child maintenance calculator on GOV.UK to help you agree a reasonable revised amount. If, for example, the one of you who’ll be paying has a new job, you’ll need to know how much their new pay is. 

Making a written record of your arrangement

You can follow the guidance for a written agreement on GOV.UK. Writing your agreement down will help make it clear what you’ve agreed. It won’t make your agreement legally binding. 

If you’re getting divorced or ending a civil partnership

You can ask the court to make a ‘consent order’ to make your arrangement legally binding. 

You should get legal advice if you want to do this. You can get legal aid if you’re in one of the following situations:

  • you’ve been affected by domestic violence or abuse

  • you made your agreement through mediation and you got legal aid for the mediation

You can read more about consent orders on GOV.UK.

If you’re the parent receiving the money, ask them why they haven’t been paying. It might be a temporary problem. 

If they still don’t pay, you can go to court to get the order enforced. If you want to do this, you can talk to an adviser.

If you’ve had the order for at least 12 months, you can ask the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to arrange maintenance for you. You’ll only be able to claim from the date you apply to the CMS. You won’t get the arrears which have built up under the order from the CMS.

If you’re the parent paying the money, explain why you can’t stick to the consent order. You might want to try to negotiate a change to it. If you want to change the order, you can talk to an adviser

If your private arrangement isn’t working

You could ask a family mediator to try to help you resolve any problems if you’re both willing to go to mediation. You can search for a mediator on the Family Mediation Council website. 

In some cases, you might get legal aid to help with mediation costs.

If you can't reach an agreement, either of you can ask the government’s Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to arrange child maintenance. Find out how to apply to the CMS for maintenance.

If you need help, you can talk to an adviser

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