Child Maintenance

When parents are unable to establish their own child maintenance arrangements, the Child Maintenance Service steps in to assist. The Child Maintenance Service calculates and, if needed, collects and enforces maintenance payments. When decisions go wrong, we offer an expert helping hand.

For parents in Northern Ireland, you must first contact
Child Maintenance Choices on 0800 028 7439.

The options for making child maintenance arrangements include:

Family Based Arrangement (FBA)

These are informal arrangements made between parents with no involvement from outside sources.  They are quick, cost effective and easy to adjust when needed.

Unlike formal arrangements, family-based arrangements can include whatever terms you both agree upon.

They can promote good parenting as parents work together to decide what is best for them and their children. 

Family-Based Arrangements can include many aspects including the amount of maintenance, payment frequency and other informal support such as sharing the day to day care of the child

They can be flexible and change as and when necessary. It is recommended that you plan to review the arrangement at least annually

They incur no cost and are easy to set up.

Consent Orders or Minutes of Agreement

These are formal arrangements made between parents, often with their lawyers.  Agreed arrangements are then approved by a court. 

Consent orders are only applicable in England and Wales. In Scotland, arrangements can be registered as a Minute of Agreement in Books of Council and Sessions

Consent Orders and Minutes of Agreement are both legally binding and can be enforced by the courts in the event of a default in payment

These are often arranged during divorce and separation proceedings, but can be arranged at any time if parties agree.

Although legally binding, a Consent Order or Minute of Agreement will only prevent an application to Child Maintenance Service (CMS) for the first 12 months. After 12 months, either parent can apply to CMS.

Statutory Scheme – CMS

Where parents cannot agree and a Family Based Arrangement, Consent Order or Minute of Agreement is not appropriate, or an existing order has broken down, parents will need to apply to the Statutory Scheme managed by Child Maintenance Service.

Either parent, or a person with primary care of the child can apply. Applications are made online   ‘Get Help with Child Maintenance’  The step-by-step process will present options for informal maintenance arrangements, but if the applicant wishes to proceed with a CMS application, they continue through to the application stage 

From February 2024, there is no longer a fee when applying for child maintenance.  

Other charges may apply if the CMS has to collect maintenance payments and for any type of  enforcement action 



Maintenance is calculated on the paying parent’s yearly gross income from information provided by HMRC.

Gross income is the amount before deductions are made for tax and national insurance.

Pension payments are deducted from the income before the calculation for maintenance is made. 

The default method of payment will be Direct Pay. No charges are applied if a case is managed on Direct Pay.

Where payments are not made, or not made in full, the CMS will take over the responsibility for collecting and passing on the maintenance payments. Fees are charged for this service.

Child Maintenance is reviewed annually so should always be up to date.

Other changes can be reported at any time, but any change to earned income must be at least 25% different from the existing income.

Maintenance can be increased or decreased by the ‘Variation Scheme’


Key Facts:

  • Child Maintenance is based on the Gross Income of the Paying Parent, which is the income paid before any deductions for tax and national insurance.
  • A fee is charged for making an application to Child Maintenance Service., although certain situations, including cases where domestic violence has been reported, the fee is waivered, or where a parent is under the age of 18.
  • Income information is sourced directly from HMRC.
  • Tax credits are no longer included as income.
  • Parents are encouraged to make their own arrangements for child maintenance where possible.
  • The default position is a ‘Direct Pay’ arrangement, where no fee is charged.  But non-payment will result in a move to the ‘Collect and Pay’ service and fees will be charged.
  • There is a two tier percentage rate applied against the Paying Parents income. See our help sheet for more details
  • Allowances are given for:
    • children living with the Paying Parent,
    • children for whom maintenance is payable under other private arrangements,
    • pensions
    • shared care arrangements.
  • Equal shared care arrangements may result in no maintenance liability under the CMS scheme.  For more details see our Equal Shared Care page.

Contact Us

If you need help with any Child Maintenance Service decision or threats of legal enforcement against child maintenance arrears, contact us now.