Archive Website of the UK government

Please note that this website has a UK government accesskeys system.

Public services all in one place

Main menu

Tuesday, 2 October 2023

About child maintenance

Child maintenance is financial support towards a child's everyday living costs. Separated parents can arrange child maintenance between themselves by making a family-based arrangement. They can also ask the CSA or courts to get involved. Find out about child maintenance and how to make an arrangement that works for you.

What child maintenance is and why it’s important

Child maintenance is usually regular, reliable financial support that helps towards a child’s everyday living costs.

The parent who doesn't have main day-to-day care of the child pays child maintenance to the parent or person who does have main day-to-day care. The person with care can be a grandparent or guardian.

But child maintenance can be about more than just money. It’s about parents taking responsibility for their children, even if they live apart from them. It can make a big difference to a child’s well-being, because it can help create a more stable environment for them.

Children in a stable environment are more likely to:

  • do well at school
  • stay out of trouble
  • have higher self-esteem

How you can arrange child maintenance

All separated parents can arrange child maintenance between themselves if they both agree to it. This is called a family-based arrangement.

Where this is not possible, parents can ask the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the courts to get involved.

Family-based arrangements

If you and the other parent want to, you can make a family-based arrangement. This is when you arrange child maintenance between yourselves.

It’s often the quickest and easiest way of arranging child maintenance because there’s little paperwork to do.

A family-based arrangement means you can:

  • agree between yourselves how much child maintenance payments should be, and when they should be made
  • agree to change your arrangement if either parent’s circumstances change
  • pay for or receive things like clothing for your child instead of money, if you both agree to it

This type of arrangement isn’t usually legally binding. This means that no-one will be able to collect any missed payments or enforce broken agreements. However, if it breaks down, either parent can ask the CSA or courts to arrange child maintenance at any time.

There are lots of tools available to help you set up a family-based arrangement, like a:

  • child maintenance calculator to help you agree on an amount
  • discussion guide to help you talk things through with the other parent
  • family-based arrangement form which you can use to keep a record of what you agree

You can also ask a professional mediator to help you if you want to.

You can use the child maintenance calculator using the following link.

To see the discussion guide on the Child Maintenance Options website and for more information about family-based arrangements use the following link.

You can download the family-based arrangement form using the following link.

CSA arrangements

Sometimes parents can’t sort out child maintenance between themselves so a family-based arrangement is not possible. In some circumstances it’s not suitable, for example if there is a risk of violence or abuse.

In such cases, the CSA will work out a child maintenance amount, using a standard process. It can also arrange for child maintenance to be collected from one parent and then passed on to the other parent.

For more information about using the CSA, use the following link.

For more information about how the CSA works out child maintenance, use the following link.

Other types of arrangements

Parents can also arrange child maintenance and enforce payments through the courts. In England and Wales, this is done using a Consent Order. In Scotland, you can make a Minute of Agreement.

In some circumstances, this type of arrangement can be enforced by a court. It's a good idea to consider using a solicitor if you want to make a Minute of Agreement.

For more information about getting legal advice, use the following link.

Usually child maintenance is arranged this way if parents are already going to court for another reason – for example, if they are getting a divorce.

Using the courts to arrange child maintenance can be expensive. Legal Aid won’t cover the costs if you are only going to court to arrange child maintenance.

Find more information about court orders for child maintenance on the Child Maintenance Options website.

For more information about other types of court orders covering arrangements for children, use the following link.

Child maintenance and benefits

Since October 2008, all parents have been able to choose how to arrange child maintenance, even if they're on benefits.

Also, since April 2010 parents with care can keep all child maintenance paid to them and this should no longer affect their income-related benefits.

Where to get more help with child maintenance

The Child Maintenance Options service provides both parents with information about:

  • family-based arrangements
  • other options for arranging child maintenance
  • other issues affecting separated families

This service is free to use.

Find more information about child maintenance on the Child Maintenance Options website, using the following link.

Additional links

Family-based arrangements

For help making a family-based arrangement, contact the confidential and impartial Child Maintenance Options service

Access keys

If you would like to take part in our website visitor survey, please visit the site and then come back and select this link to take part in the survey.