What is child maintenance?

Child maintenance is about providing help with a child’s everyday living costs. This includes things like food and clothes, and helping to provide a home for your child or children.

Child maintenance is not the only way a parent can contribute, but it’s a very important one. Find out why child maintenance is important

Child maintenance is usually money that the parent without the main day-to-day care of a child pays to the other parent. But, sharing the care of your children and buying things directly for them can also be included in family-based child maintenance arrangements, if both parents agree to it.

What child maintenance isn’t

There are a lot of misconceptions about child maintenance. Here are a few examples:

"Child maintenance just means getting money through the Child Support Agency."

Most separated parents can arrange child maintenance between themselves – either privately through a family-based arrangement or through a Child Maintenance Service 'Direct Pay' arrangement. The Child Support Agency stopped taking new applications in November 2013.

The statutory child maintenance service is for separated parents who can’t sort out child maintenance between themselves. And, they will only get involved if a parent asks them to.

Find out how to arrange child maintenance

"Child maintenance is a way of punishing absent parents."

People often use the phrase absent parent, especially absent father, unfairly. But child maintenance shouldn’t be a weapon to use against parents who, for whatever reason, live apart from their child.

Most separated parents recognise that helping with the cost of a child’s upkeep is just one of the responsibilities of being a parent, no matter where the child lives.

"Child maintenance is a kind of state benefit."

Child maintenance isn’t a benefit that separated parents can "claim" from the state. It’s paid by the other parent, and is a way of making sure both parents contribute to their child’s upkeep when they live apart. When a family-based arrangement isn’t possible, the state will get involved – but only to collect and pass on payments.

Why child maintenance is important

At the moment you may feel unable to discuss child maintenance with the other parent. Or, you just might not want to.

But, child maintenance can make a real difference to children as it can help pay for things like clothing, food and other essentials. It can also help to keep both parents involved with their children’s lives.

Whatever type of maintenance arrangement you put in place, it’s important to remember that it can help to give a child the best start in life.

It’s also important to remember that paying child maintenance for your child is a legal responsibility. 

For more information about this, read Child maintenance and the law

How to arrange child maintenance

Over half a million families choose to make an arrangement between themselves, by agreeing with the other parent about the amount and type of child maintenance that one will pay to the other. This is known as a family-based arrangement.

If you can’t agree, or if an arrangement between parents isn’t working, there are other ways to arrange child maintenance.

You could apply to the statutory child maintenance service, which can set up an arrangement for you. You’ll need to contact us before you can apply.

Or, in some cases you can also use the courts

Representatives – applying for maintenance

A person can elect a representative to act on their behalf in respect of their Child Maintenance case. That person may receive all the correspondence that would normally be sent to the client, act on their behalf in respect of reporting changes of circumstance and make an application for maintenance in the first instance.

If the representative is not someone who is legally qualified (e.g. a lawyer, barrister or legal executive), written authorisation from the person they are seeking to represent must be provided before they can act on their behalf.

They will be asked to pay any application fee for joining the statutory scheme.

When making an application on behalf of a client, they will need to provide all the same details that a client would be required to provide to proceed with a case – information about the client themselves, their children and sufficient information about the other party to the case, to allow for them to be identified.

The client themselves would still need to have the Gateway conversation with Child Maintenance Options.

If you need help sorting out child maintenance

Nearly all separated parents agree that both parents should pay towards the upkeep of their children. But making arrangements for children after separation isn’t always easy.

Child Maintenance Options is here to help you work it out. You can find practical support in our tools and guides section. And there’s even more guidance on the other issues affecting separated parent’s in our help dealing with separation section.