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How to make a private child maintenance arrangement

This advice applies to Scotland

If you separate, you're 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 'private child maintenance arrangements'.

Advantages of a private child maintenance arrangement

A private 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, buying a new school uniform instead of making one of your regular payments

Disadvantages of a private child maintenance arrangement

Private child maintenance arrangements aren't legally binding or enforceable. This means you can't force the other parent to keep paying if they stop.

It could be difficult to agree about child maintenance. For example, you might have left a violent relationship and it's unsafe for you to contact your ex-partner. Or you might disagree about how much a reasonable amount of child maintenance would be.

Check what help you can get to make a private child maintenance arrangement on GOV.UK.

What to include in a private child maintenance arrangement

You’ll need to cover:

  • 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.

Get more advice about what to include in a private maintenance arrangement from GOV.UK.

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 calculator on GOV.UK 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 private child maintenance arrangement, you don’t have to report any changes in your circumstances to the other parent. 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 might 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 might not be able to afford the same amount of  maintenance.

You can use the child maintenance calculator on GOV.UK to work out how much the new amount would be if the Child Maintenance Service has arranged child maintenance for you.

Making a private arrangement legally binding

In Scotland, you could ask a solicitor to draw up a 'Minute of Agreement' to record your private arrangement. Once this is registered in the books of Council and Session it becomes a legally binding agreement, equivalent to an order of the Court of Session.

You can't draw up a Minute of Agreement if the Child Maintenance Service has already arranged a maintenance agreement for you. 

If your ex-partner doesn’t comply with a Minute of Agreement

If you’ve set up a Minute of Agreement, and it doesn’t work, you can still apply to the Child Maintenance Service to arrange maintenance if the order has been in place for at least 12 months. This is called the '12-month rule'. You can also get the Minute of Agreement enforced by private officers of court called Messengers-at-Arms.

Help to draw up a private child maintenance arrangement

Child Maintenance Service

If you can’t agree about child maintenance with your ex-partner, you can use the government’s Child Maintenance Service. The Child Maintenance Service can:

  • work out how much maintenance needs to be paid
  • take action if a parent doesn't pay the agreed amount
  • review the payments if your circumstances change

You might want to get legal advice before agreeing a private child maintenance arrangement. 

Legal aid might be available for basic advice but it won’t cover detailed advice and it won’t cover the cost of drawing up the agreement.

Financial advice

You might want to get financial advice before agreeing a private arrangement. For example, this could help you understand your ex-partner’s financial situation better and help you negotiate a more realistic private maintenance arrangement.  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. You both have to be willing to go to mediation. Any decisions you make there won’t be legally binding, unless you get the agreement drawn up in court.

In some cases, you might get legal aid to help with mediation costs.

You can search for a mediator on the Relationships Scotland website.

If your private arrangement breaks down

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

If you can't reach an agreement through mediation, you can use the government’s Child Maintenance Service to arrange child maintenance.

Next steps

Other useful information

To find local family mediators, go to:

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