Child maintenance

The following information which Child Maintenance Options has provided is not a substitute for independent professional advice and users should obtain professional advice relevant to their particular circumstances.


Child maintenance – an introduction

What is child maintenance?

Child maintenance is regular, reliable financial support that helps towards the child’s everyday living costs. Normally the parent who does not have main day-to-day care of the child (the non-resident parent) pays child maintenance to the parent who does have main day-to-day care (the parent with care). In some cases, this person can be a grandparent or guardian. But it doesn’t only have to be about money, if parents reach an agreement between themselves it can be about much more.

Why is child maintenance important?

When parents separate there are many things to think about, such as legal issues, worries about where they will live or financial problems. One of every parent’s biggest concerns is to make sure there's enough money for everything their child needs.

An effective child maintenance arrangement can make a significant difference to a child’s well-being, because it can help create a more stable environment for them and help them get the best start in life. Even small contributions can make a big difference. For example, parents may be able to afford better food, school trips or new shoes for their children.

If parents are able to work together to make a child maintenance arrangement it can also help them both stay involved in their children’s lives. Research shows that the more both parents are interested and involved in their life, the more children are likely to do well at school, stay out of trouble and develop self-esteem and healthier relationships as an adult.

Find out more on the Child Maintenance Options website. 

The Child Maintenance Options service

What is Child Maintenance Options?

Child Maintenance Options is a service for separating and separated parents, as well as family, friends, guardians, and anyone else with an interest in child maintenance.

Child Maintenance Options will help you to find the right child maintenance arrangement for you and your child, by giving you impartial information and support.

How can Child Maintenance Options help me?

Child Maintenance Options provides information and support that will help you to:

  • understand your options if you don’t already have a child maintenance arrangement or your arrangement isn’t working as well as you’d like
  • help you to understand how much child maintenance you might pay or receive

It can also help you deal with other issues linked to child maintenance, such as housing, work, money and emotional well-being - by putting you in touch with other helpful groups that offer specialist advice.

How can I get in touch with Child Maintenance Options?

The Child Maintenance Options service provides impartial information and support on child maintenance. To speak to someone today call 0800 988 0988* or visit

* Calls to 0800 numbers are free from BT landlines but you may have to pay if you use another phone company, a mobile phone, or if you are calling from abroad.

A family-based arrangement

The quickest and easiest way to arrange child maintenance is for you and the other parent to agree things between yourselves. More than half a million children in the UK now benefit from this kind of family-based arrangement.

It doesn’t only have to be about money – it can include other kinds of support, for example, providing school uniforms (we call this ‘payments in kind’).

There are lots of benefits to having a family arrangement:

  • It’s quick and easy to set up, so children can start to benefit straight away.
  • If you can keep lawyers and the CSA out of it, it’s a lot easier to keep things friendly. When there’s less conflict, it’s the children who benefit.
  • A family-based arrangement is totally private. No one else needs to get involved in your affairs.
  • It’s flexible, because you can make special arrangements to take account of you or your children’s changing circumstances. You can also be flexible about how, what and when payments should be made.
  • You can make an arrangement even if your ex-partner lives or moves abroad. You can’t always do this with other arrangement options.
  • If it doesn’t work out you can change things. Child Maintenance Options can talk to you about your other options, including asking the CSA to set up an arrangement.

Child Maintenance Options can talk you through all aspects of a family-based arrangement and help you to get started.

The Child Maintenance Calculator gives you an indication of what your payments could be. You could use this amount as a starting point for your family-based arrangement.

You can also use the Child Maintenance Options family-based arrangement form to keep a record of what you have agreed with the other parent.

What about a Child Support Agency arrangement?

A family-based arrangement isn’t for everyone. If you don’t know where the other parent is, you don’t have a good relationship, or domestic abuse or violence is involved, you might need to look at the other options.

Either parent can apply to the Child Support Agency (CSA) who can:

  • Work out how much payments should be and when they should be made.
  • Trace the other parent (if you don’t know where they are).
  • Collect and enforce payments.
  • Allow both parents to avoid contact.

However, a CSA arrangement can sometimes be inflexible. For example, if your circumstances change, it can take a while to change your payments.

Maintenance Direct

The CSA also offers a service called Maintenance Direct, where the CSA will work out how much and how often your payments should be, but you set up and manage your own payments (with the other parent).

With Maintenance Direct, parents can agree between themselves how and when money is paid, and can vary child maintenance amounts if circumstances change.

The CSA is still available to give advice and guidance if any changes mean a new calculation needs to be made, or step in if the other parent doesn’t make the payments that are due. It’s a good idea to keep a record of the payments you make or receive, as the CSA won’t have access to that information unless you give it to them.

You can get an idea of how much child maintenance you might pay or receive through the CSA with the Child Maintenance Calculator.

You can find more information about statutory arrangements here.

What about using the courts?

The final option for arranging child maintenance and enforcing payments comes through the courts. This can differ depending on where in the country you and the other parent live, and it’s usually only the best option if you are going to court for other reasons (like arranging a divorce or dividing property or other assets), as courts rarely grant orders otherwise.

You can find more information about going through the courts here.

Family Information Service

01904 554444