How much child maintenance should I pay?

11 February 2022
Child maintenance costs in divorce

Trying to make sense of child maintenance? Michelle Lewis, Director and Family Law Solicitor, provides a clear summary of child maintenance considerations for separated parents, including how it is calculated, when it is payable and how it is arranged.

What is child maintenance?

Child maintenance is a regular (usually monthly) payment made by one parent to cover the living costs for a child or children when one of the parents no longer lives with them. The paying, or non-resident, parent makes the payment to the other parent (the resident parent) regardless of whether or not the parents are or have ever been married. However, if parents share the care of their children equally, with the same number of overnight stays a year, this is not payable.

When is child maintenance payable?

Child maintenance is paid until a child (or children) turns 16, unless the child is in full-time secondary education, which is not higher than A level or the equivalent, and is under 20. 

What does child maintenance cover?

Child maintenance payments are intended to cover a child’s everyday living expenses, such as food, clothing and housing. That said, in reality, maintenance does not have to be used by the resident parent to meet child-specific costs – payments can, for example, be used to towards mortgage payments, rent or utility bills. The resident parent does not need to evidence how the money is spent.

How is child maintenance arranged?

Child maintenance can be arranged in three ways:

1. Parents agree their own payments directly, without involving the Child Maintenance Service (CMS). It is, however, advisable for parents in these circumstances to consider consulting the CMS online calculator for an indication of their likely payment should the CMS become involved. The calculator can be found at

2. If parents cannot agree the level of child maintenance, either parent can apply to the CMS for an assessment of the maintenance which is payable. In certain limited circumstances, the CMS does not have jurisdiction; in these instances, a parent can apply for a child maintenance order through the court – please see the last section of this blog for more information.

3. In the event that parents agree maintenance payments outside the CMS, they can include their agreement as part of a court order in divorce proceedings. However, such an order is only legally enforceable for 12 months, after which either party can make an application to the CMS for an assessment of child maintenance. 

How does the CMS calculate child maintenance payments?

The CMS calculates child maintenance by applying a specific rate to the payer’s gross income. The basic rate applies if a parent’s gross weekly income is between £200 and £800. Under this rate, parents are required to pay the following:

  • 12% of their gross weekly income for 1 child
  • 16% of their gross weekly income for 2 children
  • 19% of their gross weekly income for 3 or more children

A reduction is applied to the maintenance payable by the non-resident parent in line with the number of overnight stays the child has with the non-resident parent per annum, and dependant on whether or not the non-resident is supporting a child from another relationship. Please refer to or call the CMS on 0800 171 2345 for further details. 

When can payments be obtained outside the Child Maintenance Service?

The court retains jurisdiction to make or vary orders for maintenance of children in a number of circumstances, including:

  • When the resident parent or child lives outside the UK.
  • When the non-resident parent’s gross income exceeds £156,000 per year (in the event that the CMS made the assessment), in which case the court can make a top-up order.
  • Where there is a maintenance order made prior to March 2003.
  • To meet expenses in connection with school fees, training for a trade, profession or vocation.
  • When a child (no age limit) requires financial assistance attributable to a disability.
  • If the non-resident parent or payer has died.

All information is correct at time of publication, but please note that guidelines can be subject to change.

If you need further advice or information, please do not hesitate to contact one of our specialist family law solicitors