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The 2012 Child Maintenance Scheme: calculating maintenance - the number of children in your family

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

After you've made an application for child maintenance, the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) will calculate the amount of maintenance that needs to be paid.

The calculation will depend on a number of factors, including how many children there are in the family and whether they qualify to be included in the calculation. This page tells you more about which children can be counted.

In Northern Ireland, you can arrange maintenance through the Northern Ireland Child Maintenance Service.

If you want more information about the different ways you can arrange child maintenance, go to Child Maintenance Choices at www.nidirect.gov.uk.

Therefore, when the page refers to the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), in Northern Ireland this means the Northern Ireland Child Maintenance Service. When the page refers to Child Maintenance Options, in Northern Ireland this means Child Maintenance Choices.

Which children are counted in the maintenance calculation?

The maintenance calculation is based on how many children there are in the family, that is:

  • how many children are being cared for by the parent who should be getting maintenance. They are called qualifying children, and
  • how many other children the parent who should be paying maintenance has. They are known as relevant other children.

Which qualifying children are counted in the calculation?

The CMS can only make a maintenance calculation under the 2012 Child Maintenance Scheme if the qualifying children are under a certain age.

Qualifying children who aren’t counted in the calculation

Even if they are within the age group for being counted in the maintenance calculation , children aren’t counted if they:

  • are married or in a civil partnership, or
  • have been married or were in a civil partnership.

If you also pay maintenance for other children

You may already have to pay maintenance for other children who aren’t named in the maintenance application.

Child maintenance payments are divided into rates according to your circumstances and how much money you earn.

If you have to pay maintenance at the basic or reduced rate, other children may be counted as qualifying children when the maintenance calculation is worked out.

For example, this could be because:

  • maintenance has been ordered by a court outside the UK
  • the child lives outside the UK and you have to pay maintenance under that country's rules, even if there isn't a court order
  • you pay maintenance under a family-based arrangement.

In these cases, the amount of maintenance you have to pay is split between all the children you have to pay maintenance for. You’ll have to show evidence of any other maintenance orders or family-based arrangements.

If this calculation would reduce the weekly amount of maintenance you have to pay to less than the flat rate of £5 per week, you’ll pay the flat rate. If there are several people who share day-to-day care of the children, the flat rate can be split between them.

Maintenance arrangements that are already in place

Any maintenance orders or family-based arrangements you already have will stay in place. However, if you have to pay maintenance to other children you can ask:

  • the court to adjust a maintenance order, or
  • the other parent to adjust a family-based arrangement.

If a qualifying child dies

If a qualifying child dies before the CMS has made the maintenance calculation, the calculation will be adjusted to reflect the change of circumstances. Maintenance will still be calculated under the rules of the 2012 Scheme.

Relevant other children

The CMS also take into account how many other children you and your current partner have when they make their calculation. These children are called relevant other children.

To count as a relevant other child, you or your current partner must qualify to get Child Benefit for them. They don’t have to be your biological children, and you don’t have to have a parental order for them. Relevant other children include:

  • your current partner’s children
  • any children you have with your current partner
  • children who live somewhere else, for example, because they're at boarding school or they’re in hospital
  • children where the care is shared with someone else
  • children who are in local authority care for all or part of the time.

For a child to count as a relevant other child, they must meet the same conditions as those which apply to qualifying children. For example, they must be within the age group to qualify.

Next steps

Other useful information

  • More about calculations done by the Child Support Agency under the 2003 Scheme: www.cmoptions.org
  • More about how the CMS works out maintenance payments: www.gov.uk

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