This advice applies to Northern Ireland. Change country
The 2012 Child Maintenance Scheme - who can get maintenance?
Both parents are legally responsible for the financial costs of bringing up their children. If you split up and can’t come to an agreement between yourselves about who will pay and how much this should be, you may be able to get maintenance arranged by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) under the 2012 Child Maintenance Scheme.
This page tells you whether you're eligible to have child maintenance arranged using the 2012 Scheme.
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.
Who qualifies to use the 2012 Scheme?
The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) will only arrange child maintenance if all the following rules apply to your family:
- you all live in the UK
- the children are under a certain age
- maintenance is to be paid for a child. The child is called a qualifying child
- one parent has day-to-day care of the children, and the other parent has a legal responsibility to pay maintenance. If someone other than a parent has day-to-day care of the children, both parents may have to pay maintenance
- there is no other maintenance arrangement in place.
However, in some cases, if you're paying maintenance under the 1993 or 2003 Scheme, your case may be transferred to the 2012 scheme if there is a link with a new case.
Will you have to pay to arrange maintenance under the 2012 Child Maintenance Scheme?
The government has introduced fees and charges for parents using the 2012 statutory CMS.
What if you don't have contact with the parent who should pay maintenance?
You should still get maintenance from the parent who should pay maintenance, even if they don't have contact with the children. This is because you're both legally responsible for the financial costs of bringing up the children. Paying maintenance does not give the other parent a right to see the children.
- More about contact with children
How much maintenance will you get?
If the CMS arranges maintenance, they will make a calculation based on legal rules which take into account:
- the income of the parent who should pay maintenance
- the number of qualifying children. These are the children you are caring for
- the number of relevant other children. These are other children that are also being supported financially.
The calculation doesn’t take into account your income or how much you actually need to bring up the children. The amount you get will be fixed. However, the CMS will review the calculation each year.
Changes of circumstances
If the parent paying maintenance has a change of circumstances, the amount of maintenance you're getting may change.
If you share care
If you share the care of your child equally with the other parent, neither of you are legally responsible for paying any child maintenance to each other.
When will I get my child maintenance?
If the CMS works out maintenance payments, it should take about four weeks to set up the arrangement.
The parent who pays maintenance will usually have to make regular payments directly to you, either monthly or weekly, usually into your bank account or by money transfer. This is called Direct Pay.
However, if Direct Pay is not suitable, the CMS can collect payments from the other parent and pass them onto you. This is called Collect & Pay. There are fees for using the Collect & Pay service.
What if there is already a court order for maintenance in place?
You won’t qualify to get child maintenance under the 2012 Scheme if there's already a court order for maintenance in place that was made before 3 March 2003.
If a court order was made on or after 3 March 2003, you won't be able to apply for maintenance under the 2012 Scheme if the order has been in force for less than one year.
What if there is already a maintenance agreement in place?
You won’t qualify to get maintenance under the 2012 Scheme if there is already a written maintenance agreement for the same children and it was made before 5 April1993.
What if there's already a family-based arrangement in place?
You may get maintenance under the 2012 Scheme if there's already a family-based maintenance arrangement in place for another child who is cared for on a day-to-day basis. This child is called a relevant other child.
When the CMS works out its calculation it will treat the relevant other child as a qualifying child even though the family-based agreement isn't legally binding. This means that:
- the parent who has to pay maintenance will pay less under the 2012 Scheme, and
- the family based arrangement will carry on as before.
You'll have to show evidence of the family-based arrangement when you make your application. This can either be a written agreement or other evidence, such as a letter confirming your arrangements.
Mark has four children with his ex-wife Paula. They are the qualifying children. He has a family-based arrangement with another ex-partner Louise, for their child James, who is a relevant other child.
Paula applies for child maintenance under the 2012 Scheme. The maintenance calculation will also take James into account as a qualifying child even though a family-based arrangement isn’t legally enforceable.
This means Mark will pay less maintenance for the four children with Paula, but Louise will carry on getting the same amount of money as before for James.
Other useful information
- More about maintenance arranged by the Child Support Agency: www.cmoptions.org