Paying child maintenance through the CMS

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

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) will write to you when someone has said you’re the parent of their child and asked the CMS to arrange maintenance. 

If you’re the child’s parent, you have to pay maintenance even if you don’t see them. Paying maintenance doesn’t mean you have a right to see the child. If you’d like to see them, you should first try to agree with the person who’s looking after them. 

If you can’t come to an agreement to see them, check what other ways you could try to arrange to see your children

You don’t have to arrange maintenance through the CMS - you can choose to arrange it directly with the other parent.

If you don’t think you’re the child’s parent, you’ll have to prove why. You might have to pay until you can prove you’re not the child’s parent.

Check if the CMS can ask you to pay maintenance

The CMS can only ask you to pay maintenance if all the following rules apply to you and your family: 

  • you’re all ‘habitually resident’ in the UK

  • the child is under 16 or under 20 and in approved education - they’re called a ‘qualifying child’

You also don’t have to pay through the CMS if you already pay maintenance for the child:

  • to someone else through the CMS

  • under a court order which is less than a year old

Check you’re habitually resident in the UK

The CMS can only arrange maintenance if both parents and the children you’re paying maintenance for are all habitually resident in the UK. This means you’ve made the UK your home and intend to live here for the time being.

If you’re not sure if you’re habitually resident, talk to an adviser.

Check if the child is a qualifying child

A child is a qualifying child if they’re under 16. 

If they’re 16 or over, they’re a qualifying a child if all the following apply:

Check how the CMS will assess what you have to pay

The CMS will make an initial assessment of what you have to pay based on:

  • what the other parent has told them

  • information from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) or the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)

It will then phone you to ask you for information to calculate exactly what you should pay. 

If the CMS can’t contact you by phone, they’ll write to you. You have 14 days to reply. 

The CMS will try to arrange a face-to-face interview with you if either:

  • you didn’t know you’re the parent of the child

  • you’re not named on the birth certificate

If you're the parent of the child

You’ll have to give the CMS information so they can work out how much maintenance you should pay.

You could be prosecuted if you don’t give the CMS that information or if you give false information.

Check what personal details you have to give the CMS

You’ll have to tell the CMS:

  • your name

  • your date of birth

  • your national insurance number - you can find this on your payslip or your benefit letter

  • how often the child stays overnight with you

  • if there are any maintenance arrangements in place for the child - like a court order

  • if you pay maintenance for any other children not named in the application form

  • how you want to pay

You should keep a diary about when the child stays with you to help with the question about overnight stays.

Check what financial details you have to give the CMS

The CMS will get financial information about you directly from HM Revenue and Customs. It will also ask you for details of:

  • your employer

  • your business, if you’re self-employed

  • your earnings, including gross pay and any bonuses 

  • any benefits you get (except for Child Benefit)

  • any maintenance you’re getting

  • other income, like a student grant or rent from a lodger

  • bank or building society accounts

If you have other children

The CMS can ask you about any children living with you. They can ask for:

  • the child’s date of birth

  • if their parent is eligible for Child Benefit for them

If you don't think you're the child's parent

If you’re sure you’re not the child’s parent, you need to prove this, for example with:

  • a DNA test

  • proof you were in a different country when the child is likely to have been conceived

  • medical evidence you can’t have children

You could also prove you’re not the child’s parent if there’s no written proof you agreed to IVF treatment.

If you’re not sure if you’re the child’s parent, the CMS will interview you and the other parent and look at any evidence. They might ask you:

  • how long you knew the child’s other parent

  • why you think you’re not the child’s parent

  • if you’re willing to take a DNA test

The CMS can also ask a court for confirmation you’re the child’s parent. They’ll only do this:

  • in very complex disputes

  • if DNA testing isn’t appropriate - like if the child was born as a result of IVF treatment 

Check when you can be treated as the child’s parent

You might be treated as the child’s parent if either:

  • you’re named as a parent on the birth certificate

  • you were married to the child’s other parent at any time between the child’s conception and birth 

You might be treated as the child’s parent because:

  • of donor insemination or fertility treatment

  • a court has made a parental order naming you as the parent following a surrogate birth

  • a court has made a declaration you’re the legal parent of the child and the child hasn’t been adopted since

  • you’ve adopted the child

You won’t be treated as the parent if the child has been adopted by someone else since you separated.

If you started paying maintenance but then realise you’re not the child’s parent

You’ll have to pay until you can prove you’re not the child’s parent. 

The CMS will offer you a DNA test. If you refuse to take it, the CMS will treat you as their parent.

If you can’t pay for the DNA test, the CMS will pay the fee for you. You’ll have to repay it if the test shows you’re the child’s parent.

If you paid for a DNA test which proves you’re not the parent, you’ll get the cost of the test back. 

You won’t get a refund on maintenance you paid before you denied you were the child’s parent.

The CMS might ask the parent who was getting maintenance to pay back any money you’ve paid since the date you denied you were the parent. They’ll decide this on a case-by-case basis. 

If the DNA test proves you are the child’s parent, you’ll have to pay:

  • any maintenance arrears

  • court costs

  • the cost of the DNA test

Check how much you’ll have to pay

You can check how much you might have to pay on GOV.UK. You’ll need to say:

  • how much you earn

  • how many children you’ll pay maintenance for

  • how many nights a week the child spends with you

  • if any other children live with you

  • if you already pay maintenance for any other children

If you want to check it's been worked out correctly, you can talk to an adviser.

If you’re on benefits

You’ll only have to pay £7 a week if you’re on certain benefits including:

  • Carer’s Allowance

  • Employment and Support Allowance 

  • Income Support

  • Jobseeker's Allowance

  • Pension Credit

  • State Pension

  • Universal Credit calculated on the basis that you have no income

If you want to check the full list of benefits you need to be getting, you can talk to an adviser.

Getting the CMS decision

You’ll get the result of the CMS assessment so you can check it. You’ll also get information about how they worked out the amount. 

When you’ve agreed the amount of maintenance, the CMS will send you and the other parent a payment schedule for the year. This will show when you should make payments. It will include any maintenance you should have paid since the other parent applied to the CMS.

Paying child maintenance

You can pay the money:

  • direct to the person looking after the children - this is called ‘Direct Pay’

  • through the CMS - this is called ‘Collect and Pay’

Direct Pay

You can make your own arrangements for payment. For example, you can arrange to pay the money into the other parent’s bank account every month. It won’t cost anything. 

Asking the CMS to collect maintenance - ‘Collect and Pay’

You can also ask the CMS to collect maintenance and pay it for you if:

  • you don’t want any contact with the other parent

  • you used Direct Pay but that arrangement broke down

  • you had a private arrangement and it broke down

 To use Collect and Pay:

  • you’ll have to pay 20% of the amount of maintenance you have to pay - it’ll be added to what you have to pay

  • the other parent will have to pay 4% of the amount of maintenance they get - it’ll be deducted from what they get


The CMS has said Greg should pay £35 a week in child maintenance to Jane. If they use Direct Pay, he pays £35 and she gets £35.  

If they use Collect and Pay, the CMS will add 20% to what Greg has to pay (20% of £35 is £7) so he’ll have to pay £42 (£35 + £7 = £42). 

The CMS will also deduct 4% from the amount Jane gets (4% of £35 is £1.40) so Jane will only get £33.60 (£35 - £1.40 = £33.60).

If you’ve been paying by Collect and Pay, you can ask to switch back to Direct Pay. 

Keep a record of the payments you make

You should keep a record of the payments you make. This will help in case there’s any dispute in future about how much you’ve paid.

If you already pay maintenance for other children

You might be paying maintenance for other children under either: 

  • a private arrangement

  • a court order which is over a year old

It’s worth finding out if you’d be better off paying all your maintenance through the CMS. You might pay less if the CMS take account of the other children when calculating how much you have to pay.

If you want to complain to the CMS

If you aren’t the person named as the parent by the person who wants maintenance, you can complain to the CMS. You can also claim compensation for the upset and inconvenience this has caused.

If you don’t agree with the calculation, you can ask the CMS to look at the decision again

If you’re not happy with the service you’ve received from the CMS rather than with a decision they made, you can make a complaint. Read more about complaining about the CMS.

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Page last reviewed on 30 October 2020