This is how the Child Maintenance System works in the UK

This is not an article about whether the CMS (Child Maintenance System) is or isn’t effective. Many single parents feel that the system is broken or imperfect, and are left feeling unsupportive or out of pocket due to issues with enforcement. However, if you’re a new single parent and you are trying to figure out whether you’re due to receive child support from your child’s other parent, you’ve come to the right place.  

Navigating the child maintenance system in the UK can be daunting for new single mums. Before you tackle it, read this step-by-step overview to help you understand how the system works and what you need to do to ensure your child receives the financial support they need.

What is Child Maintenance?

Child maintenance is a regular financial contribution from the non-resident parent (the parent who does not live with the child) to the parent with care (the parent who lives with the child). This support is there to help cover the child’s living costs, including food, clothing, and housing, and it is a legal requirement.

Here’s How to Navigate the Child Maintenance System

Step 1: Understanding Your Options

There are two main ways to arrange child maintenance with your children’s other parent/s:

  1. Family-Based Arrangement: This is an informal agreement between you and the other parent. It allows flexibility and can be tailored to suit both of your needs. However, it is not legally binding, and will be subject to change if one or both of you change your circumstances (or your mind). 
  2. Child Maintenance Service (CMS): If you cannot reach an agreement or prefer a formal arrangement, you can use the CMS. The CMS calculates the amount you should receive (or pay), arranges payments, and takes action if payments are not made.

Step 2: Applying to the Child Maintenance Service

To apply to the CMS, you will need to contact them and provide some details about your situation. You can make the application to the CMS online or by phone. The CMS will ask for information about both parents, including income details and the number of children.

Step 3: Calculation of Maintenance Payments

The CMS calculates maintenance payments based on the non-resident parent’s gross weekly income. The calculation follows these steps:

Gross Income Assessment: The CMS assesses the non-resident parent’s gross income, including earnings from employment, self-employment, and certain benefits.

Adjustments: Adjustments are made for other children the non-resident parent supports and the number of nights the child spends with them.

Applying Rates: The CMS applies one of the following rates based on the gross weekly income: 

  • Basic Rate: For incomes between £200 and £800.
  • Basic Plus Rate: For incomes between £800.01 and £3,000.
  • Reduced Rate: For incomes between £100.01 and £199.99.
  • Flat Rate: £7 for incomes between £7 and £100 or if the parent receives benefits.
  • Nil Rate: For incomes less than £7.

Step 4: Payment Arrangements

Once the amount is calculated, the CMS can help set up the payment method. Payments can be made directly between parents or through the CMS’s Collect and Pay service, which involves a fee.

Step 5: Enforcement

If the non-resident parent fails to make payments, the CMS has enforcement powers. They can take money directly from wages, benefits, or bank accounts, and even take legal action. Whether or not this happens is, however, another story, and many single parents have called for massive reform of the system to support parents who frequently go without their contributions. 

Step 6: Reviewing and Updating Arrangements

Child maintenance arrangements can be reviewed if there are significant changes in circumstances, such as changes in income, employment status, or the child’s needs. Regular reviews ensure that the maintenance amount remains fair and adequate.

Additional Considerations

  • Impact on Benefits: Child maintenance payments do not affect benefits like Universal Credit.
  • Legal Advice: If you face difficulties or need personalised advice, consider consulting a family law solicitor.
  • Domestic Abuse: If you are experiencing domestic abuse, the CMS can handle all communications with the other parent to ensure your safety.

All The Info

Visit to calculate how much you will be able to receive, to make an application, or find out more. 

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