• How to reduce child maintenance payments in the UK


How to reduce child maintenance payments in the UK

How to reduce child maintenance payments UK

In this guide, we’ll explore child maintenance in more detail, including what it is, how to reduce payments, and what happens if you don’t pay it.

Maxine McCreadie
Maxine McCreadie

8th August 2023


The rising cost of living in the UK has led to more parents struggling to keep up with the various costs associated with raising a child, including child maintenance payments.

However, because unpaid child maintenance is considered a priority debt, there can be serious consequences for failing to make payments on time.

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What is child maintenance?

Child maintenance is designed to help cover the everyday living costs associated with raising a child when parents are separated.

Typically, the non-resident parent pays child maintenance to the parent who fulfils the main day-to-day care duties of the child.

Payments are governed by the government’s statutory Child Maintenance Service (CMS) which works out, collects, and pays child maintenance payments, or child support payments, on behalf of separated parents in the UK.

The CMS doesn’t automatically get involved when parents separate, but acts as an option for parents that can’t come to a mutually-beneficial agreement on how to cover the cost of raising the child.

The role of child maintenance is not to punish parents without full-time care of the child but to ensure both parents are contributing towards the cost of raising the child, which is a fundamental responsibility of being a parent.

What does child maintenance cover?

Child maintenance is designed to cover the daily living costs associated with raising a child, including food, housing, and clothing.

There is currently no law in place stating that the receiving parent must provide evidence that child maintenance payments are being spent solely on the child’s living costs.

However, if you are concerned your child maintenance payments are being spent on other, non-related expenses, you should contact a child maintenance solicitor.

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How are child maintenance payments calculated?

Knowing how child maintenance payments are calculated can help you know how to reach an alternative agreement.

The CMS follows a six-step process to work out how much you should contribute towards the financial support of your child each month:

Step 1: Working out your income

First, the CMS will contact HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to find out your yearly gross income or, in other words, how much you earn each year before tax and other deductions are made. They will also check if you’re receiving any benefits.

Step 2: Looking at things that affect your income

Next, the CMS will check for things that could potentially change your yearly gross income amount, including pension payments or other child maintenance payments.

They will then convert your yearly gross income into a weekly figure.

Step 3: Applying a child maintenance rate

Once the CMS has a weekly figure, they will use that information to apply the appropriate child maintenance rate:

  • If your gross weekly income is unknown, the default rate will be applied (£38 a week for one child, £51 for two children, and £64 for three or more children)
  • If your gross weekly income is below £7, the nil rate will be applied (£0 a week)
  • If your gross weekly income is between £7 and £100 or the paying parent gets benefits, the flat rate will be applied (£7 a week)
  • If your gross weekly income is between £100.01 and £199.99, the reduced rate will be applied (calculated using a formula)
  • If your gross weekly income is between £200 to £3,000, the basic rate will be applied (calculated using a formula)

However, if the paying parent’s gross weekly income is more than £3,000 they receiving parent can apply to the court for additional child maintenance.

The UK government has a child maintenance calculator to help you determine how much child maintenance you should be paying based on your income.

Step 4: Considering other children

The CMS will also take into account any other children the paying parent has to pay child maintenance for or financially support.

This includes everything from food costs to travel expenses.

Step 5: Coming to a decision

Once the CMS has gathered all the information from the previous steps, they will decide the weekly child maintenance amount.

Step 6: Considering shared care

When a final decision has been made, the CMS will make deductions based on the average number of nights of shared care each week.

This is when the child stays overnight with the paying parent.

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What should I do if my financial situation changes?

Because child maintenance payments are based on your gross weekly income, any changes to your financial situation can affect the amount of child maintenance you’ll be expected to pay.

Additionally, the rising cost of living has meant more people than ever are struggling to afford their child maintenance payments.

However, because child maintenance payments are priority payments, you must make a conscious effort to ensure they are paid ahead of any non-priority debts, such as credit cards or store cards.

If you can no longer afford your child maintenance, there are various options available to you:

Talk to the other parent

First, if it’s safe and possible to do so, talk to the receiving parent and try to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.

This can be daunting if you’re not on good terms with the other parent, but it can lead to your child maintenance payments being reduced to an affordable level.

Even if you only manage to negotiate a temporary reduction, it can help you meet your financial obligations until your circumstances improve.

Ask the CMS for help

Alternatively, if you’ve tried and failed to come to an agreement with the other parent or your financial situation has changed, you can ask the CMS to step in and help.

For example, if you’ve been furloughed or made redundant and your income has fallen by 25% or more, it may be worth asking the CMS to recalculate your child maintenance payments.

However, the CMS charge a fee for this service, so this option should only be considered if you’ve tried and failed to come to an agreement privately.

What will happen if I stop paying child maintenance?

Halting your child maintenance payments for whatever reason can have serious consequences, regardless of whether you made a private arrangement or sought help from the CMS.

The CMS will add each missed child maintenance payment and consider the outstanding amount an unpaid debt.

Like creditors, they also have processes they follow to collect unpaid debts and will usually initiate proceedings immediately unless you have reached out to explain your financial situation.

Continuing to withhold payment after this stage will give the CMS the right to apply for a court order to collect the money directly from your wages or benefits before it reaches you and, in rare cases, you could end up in prison.

Can I challenge my child maintenance payments?

The CMS bases your child maintenance amount on your gross weekly income to ensure you can afford to make regular payments.

However, there are some instances in which you may be able to ask the CMS to reconsider their decision, such as:

  • You believe their decision is wrong
  • Your financial situation has changed (e.g. you have a child with a new partner)
  • You have ‘special expenses’ (e.g. the cost of travelling to see your child)

While the CMS are considering your request, you must continue paying child support as normal.

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When does child maintenance stop?

In the UK, you must pay child support until the child is 16. This will be extended to 20 if the child is in full-time education.

Other factors that impact when child maintenance payments stop include:

  • If a parent dies
  • If the receiving parent is no longer the primary care-giver
  • If the paying parent experiences a change in financial circumstances
Maxine McCreadie
Maxine McCreadie

Maxine is an experienced writer, specialising in personal insolvency. With a wealth of experience in the finance industry, she has written extensively on the subject of Individual Voluntary Arrangements, Protected Trust Deed's, and various other debt solutions.

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Our debt experts continually monitor the personal finance and debt industry, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.

Current Version

August 8 2023

Written by
Maxine McCreadie

Edited by
Ben McCormack

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