Child maintenance and the law

Understanding what the law says about children’s rights and parents’ responsibilities may help you make the decisions you need to about arrangements for your children.

Rights and responsibilities

When parents separate they both still have certain responsibilities regarding their children.

For example, both parents still have a legal duty to:

  • make sure that their child has somewhere to live
  • provide for their child financially.

These responsibilities mean that you and the other parent need to work out how you will share the parenting of your children. It’s usually in everyone’s best interests to make these kinds of decisions between yourselves.

Financial responsibility

All parents are financially responsible for their children.

If a parent lives apart from their child, financial responsibility usually means paying child maintenance to the parent with the main day-to-day care of the child.

Financial responsibility is separate from "parental responsibility".

Parental responsibility

Parental responsibility is the term the law uses to describe the duties parents have towards their children.

Mothers are automatically given parental responsibility but not all fathers are.

But, all fathers are financially responsible for their children even if they:

  • don’t live with the child’s mother
  • aren’t named on the birth certificate
  • don’t have formal parental responsibility.

How to financially support your child

The quickest, easiest and most flexible way of financially supporting your child after separation is to make a family-based arrangement with the other parent.

This is where parents make arrangements for their child without involving the courts, or the Government’s statutory child maintenance service.

You can sort out arrangements yourselves without needing to take any legal steps – although it‘s a good idea to write down what you’ve agreed.

Get help talking about child maintenance.

You can keep a record of what you agree using a family-based arrangement form (338KB) PDF.

If you still can’t agree on financial arrangements, you can ask the courts or a statutory child maintenance service to get involved.

The Child Support Act

The Child Support Act provides the legal framework for child maintenance payments through the Government’s statutory child maintenance service.

Among other things, the Act authorises the statutory services to work out and collect child maintenance.

The Act also says that paying parents are legally required to pay the child maintenance amounts worked out by the statutory child maintenance service, if a parent opens a case with them.

Depending on your circumstances you may be able to get free legal advice from Community Legal Advice