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How to make a family-based child maintenance arrangement

If you separate, you are both still responsible for the financial costs of bringing up any children.

If it’s possible, you can make these arrangements yourselves to support the children financially. These are called voluntary maintenance agreements or family-based child maintenance arrangements.

This page tells you what a family-based child maintenance arrangement is and how to make one. It also tells you where to go for help to make a family-based arrangement.

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.

Advantages of a family-based child maintenance arrangement

A family-based child maintenance arrangement costs nothing to set up. It can be simple and quick to arrange because you don't have to deal with any official rules or authorities. It means you can agree:

  • between yourselves how much maintenance should be paid
  • how and when payments should be made
  • to change arrangements if circumstances change
  • to pay for items instead of money. For example, you could buy a new school uniform instead of making one of your regular payments.

Disadvantages of a family-based child maintenance agreement

Family-based child maintenance agreements are not legally binding or enforceable. This means that a parent who stops paying can’t be forced to do so.

It may be difficult to come to an agreement about child maintenance. For example, you may have left a violent relationship where it would be unsafe for you to be in contact with your ex-partner. Or you may have different ideas about how much would be a reasonable amount of child maintenance.

You may therefore need to get help to draw up a family-based maintenance agreement. The Child Maintenance Options website gives more advice about how to do this.

What to include in a family-based child maintenance arrangement

You’ll need to cover the following points:

  • how much maintenance should be paid
  • how often payments should be made
  • how and when the payments will be made
  • a review date to talk about the arrangement and make any changes if it isn’t working.

The Child Maintenance Options website gives more advice about what you should include in a family-based arrangement.

Working out how much child maintenance should be paid

The amount of child maintenance is usually based on the income of the parent who doesn’t have the main day-to-day care of the child.  You should only agree what is affordable and realistic.

You can use the Child Maintenance Options online calculator to get an idea of how much you might pay or get if the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) has arranged child maintenance for you.

This figure can be a starting point to discuss how much child maintenance to agree on.

Change of circumstances

If you have a family-based child maintenance arrangement, you don’t have to report any changes in your circumstances to the other parent.  However, it’s a good idea to include a review date so that you can reconsider the agreement and change it if necessary.

If you’re paying maintenance and your circumstances change before the review date, you may need to try and re-negotiate your arrangement. For example, if you lose your job, or if you have a baby with a new partner, you may no longer be able to afford the maintenance you were paying before.

You can use the online calculator on the Child Maintenance Options website to work out how much the new figure would be if the CMS has arranged child maintenance for you.

Making a family-based arrangement legally binding

Help to draw up a family-based child maintenance agreement

Child Maintenance Options

Child Maintenance Options is a free, impartial and confidential service provided by the Department for Work and Pensions. As well as advice on how to draw up a family-based maintenance agreement, they offer:

  • an online maintenance calculator
  • a blank agreement form you can use to draw up your own arrangement.

You may want to take legal advice before agreeing a family-based child maintenance agreement. Legal aid may be available for initial advice but it won’t cover detailed advice and it won’t cover the cost of drawing up the agreement.

Financial advice

You may want financial advice before agreeing a family-based agreement. For example, this could help you understand your ex-partner’s financial situation better and help you to negotiate a more realistic family-based maintenance agreement.  You won’t get financial help to pay for a financial adviser.

Mediation

If you’re finding it difficult to come to an agreement about maintenance, you could get the help of a family mediator. To use this service, you both have to be willing to go along. Any decisions you make there won’t be legally binding, unless you get the agreement drawn up in court.

In some cases, you may get financial help with the costs of a mediator.

If your family-based arrangement breaks down

If your family-based arrangement breaks down, you could ask a family mediator to try and help you resolve any problems.

As a last resort, you can use a statutory scheme to arrange child maintenance.

Next steps

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