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Do you have to pay child maintenance under the 2012 Child Maintenance Scheme?

Both parents are legally responsible for the financial costs of bringing up any children. If you split up and you have children who don’t live with you, you may be responsible for paying child maintenance to the person who looks after the children on a day-to-day basis.

This page tells you more about whether you have to pay maintenance under the 2012 Child Maintenance Scheme.

Are you the biological parent of the children?

You have a duty to support your children financially if you're their:

  • biological parent, or
  • adoptive parent, or
  • legal parent and your child was born as a result of donor insemination, fertility treatment or surrogacy.

In some cases, the biological father of children born through donor insemination doesn’t have to pay maintenance. This is the case if the donation took place after April 2009 and:

  • it was arranged through a licensed clinic, or
  • the lesbian couple to whom the donation was made are in a civil partnership. In this situation, both women are considered the legal parent and the donor is not responsible for financially supporting the children.

Do you all live in the UK?

The 2012 Scheme usually only applies if you all live in the UK.

How old are the children?

You don’t have to pay maintenance for your children if they're over a certain age.

Do you share care of the children?

If you share the care of your child completely equally with the other parent, you will not be legally responsible for paying child maintenance at all.

If you don’t have contact with the children

You have a legal responsibility for paying maintenance for your children even if you don't have regular contact with them. And even if you do pay maintenance, this doesn’t give you any rights to contact with your children.

If you would like to have contact with your child but don't have it at the moment, you should first try to negotiate with the person who is caring for the children.

If you can’t negotiate contact arrangements, you may want to consider applying to court for a contact order.

If you have other children

You still have a legal responsibility for financially supporting the children who qualify for maintenance, even if you have other children living with you or you are responsible for other children. These children are called relevant other children.

You will pay less maintenance if you have relevant other children.

How much maintenance will you have to pay under the 2012 Scheme?

If the CMS arranges maintenance, they will do a maintenance calculation based on rules which take into account:

  • your gross income, and
  • the number of qualifying children, and
  • the number of relevant other children.

Your gross income is your income before you've paid any tax, National Insurance or other things, such as pension contributions or season ticket loans.

If you share the care of your child equally with the other parent, you may not be legally responsible for paying any child maintenance at all.

If you're the parent who should pay maintenance, you can apply under the 2012 Scheme for the CMS to work out how much maintenance you have to pay - you don’t have to wait until the parent with day-to-day care makes an application for maintenance.

If you have no income or a low income

You’re expected to pay some maintenance even if you’re unemployed or on a low income and even if you're already paying maintenance for other children. Generally how much you have to pay depends on your income – it doesn’t matter what other expenses you have.

How to pay maintenance arranged by the Child Maintenance Service

You will normally be given the option of paying maintenance directly to the parent who cares for the children. This is called Direct Pay. You could decide to use the CMS Collect & Pay service which means you pay maintenance to the CMS and they pass on the payments to the parent with day-to-day care of the children. A charge has been introduced for using this service.

What happens if you don’t pay maintenance?

If you don’t pay maintenance, the welfare of your children is likely to suffer.

If you fail to pay maintenance arranged by the CMS, there are steps they may be able to take to make you pay, for example:

  • you could have money deducted from your benefits, earnings or bank account
  • in England and Wales, the bailiffs could come to take your goods away so they can be sold
  • you could be disqualified from driving.

If you’re already paying maintenance arranged by the Child Support Agency (CSA)

If you’re already paying child maintenance under the 1993 or 2003 Schemes arranged by the CSA, you must carry on doing so.

However, your case will be closed at some point between early 2014 and 2017.

The parent who cares for your children will then either try to make a family-based arrangement with you or, if this isn't possible, they will have apply to the CMS as a new applicant.

In some cases, if you're paying maintenance under one of the old schemes, your case may be transferred to the 2012 scheme if there is a link with a new case.

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