Child maintenance: an introduction

Child maintenance is regular financial support that helps pay everyday living costs of bringing up a child when parents are separated. It’s for children who are under 16 or under 20 and still in full-time education not higher than A-Level.

Arranging child maintenance

Child maintenance can help your child’s well-being and the quality of family relationships.

The parent who doesn’t have the day-to-day care (the ‘paying parent’) pays child maintenance to the parent or person who does (the ‘receiving parent’).

When possible, you should make sure your child is looked after by having an effective maintenance arrangement in place. Both parents are legally responsible for the financial costs of bringing up their children, even parents who don't live with their children.

Separated parents can arrange child maintenance:

  • privately through a family-based arrangement
  • through a Consent Order from a court 
  • through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS)

Getting help with child maintenance

If you need more information, contact Child Maintenance Choices (CM Choices). It's a free advice service that can help you decide the best maintenance arrangement for you and your family.

It's important that both parents make a final agreement that provides regular and reliable financial support to help with the child’s living costs.

Family-based arrangement

If you and the other parent can agree child maintenance without a court or the Child Maintenance Service, this is a family-based arrangement. You can make this agreement privately to sort out child maintenance.

Consent Order

A Consent Order is an official ruling made by a court. To put one in place both parents need to agree how much child maintenance is going to be paid and how often before going to court. 

If you need help reaching a figure, contact :

They can give you an estimate by telephone . You can use this amount when you start discussing child maintenance with the other parent. Once you agree an amount, the court will decide if it seems reasonable.

You ask the court to turn this agreement into a Consent Order which makes it legally binding. You can do this privately with the other parent or through a solicitor.

Legal costs

Putting in place a Consent Order will involve legal costs for:

  • solicitors
  • mediators
  • court fees

If you can’t afford the costs, you might qualify for help with legal costs through Legal Aid.

To ask about Legal Aid, contact a solicitor. You can get a list of solicitors from:

General information on legal aid is also available from Advice NI:

Paying child maintenance

If the parent who should be paying child maintenance doesn't pay, the other parent can ask the court to enforce the Consent Order. The court can order money to be taken directly from the wages or property of the parent who should be paying child maintenance, and can also force them to sell their belongings.

During the first 12 months of a Consent Order, you can't ask the Child Maintenance Service to put a child maintenance arrangement in place. This includes calculating, collecting or enforcing payments.

After 12 months of the Consent Order, either parent can ask the Child Maintenance Service for a child maintenance arrangement. This cancels the Consent Order.

Child Maintenance Service

For parents who don't have a Consent Order in place or can't make their own family-based arrangement, CMS can help you set up an arrangement. You can arrange maintenance payments by ‘direct pay’ or with the CMS ‘Collect and Pay’ service.

Charges may apply depending on which you choose. New applications to the CMS for maintenance are dealt with under the 2012 Child Maintenance Scheme.

 

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