Guide to child maintenance payments

In the event of family breakdown, both parents are expected to pay towards the cost of raising their children. The payments for this, which are made by one ex-partner to the other, are known as child maintenance payments. There are several options for arranging to pay child maintenance and this article discusses the pros and cons of each.

Family-based arrangements

In this instance, you and your ex-partner decide how much child maintenance to pay, how to pay it and when to pay it. Often one partner sets up a standing order for the payments to be paid each month. The amount can be agreed between you, or you can use the support of an impartial mediator to help you reach an agreed amount.

It is a quick, flexible, and cost-effective way to move forward, but does rely on a degree of trust and communication between you both. On the downside, the payments aren’t legally binding, and things can go wrong if your ability to trust and communicate with each other is damaged.

In England and Wales, these arrangements can be made legally binding by asking a solicitor to make them into a consent order which is approved by the court.

Consent orders

A consent order is used by divorcing couples to make any financial agreements legally binding. This includes child maintenance payments, which are often part of a larger financial settlement.

This document can provide peace of mind for all concerned as the terms of the child maintenance are clearly set out, and everyone knows where they stand.

The main drawbacks are:

  • If things go wrong, you have to wait 12 months after arranging a consent order to apply to the CMS for a statutory agreement.
  • It is expensive to enforce the order if the payments are not made.
  • There is not the flexibility for amendments as you have to return to court to vary the terms of the consent order.

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS)

For those unable to agree on child maintenance payments, the CMS can help by collecting and making the payments, without the need for communication with and consent of an ex-partner. This is particularly important for those who have an abusive ex and have suffered domestic violence.

To use the CMS your children must be under 16 years or under 20 years and in full-time education, and you must have the right to live in the UK, which is your main home.

The CMS can calculate how much child maintenance should be paid and can also arrange for the money to be paid. This has the benefit of ensuring the amount of child maintenance payments is fair and if an ex-partner refuses or stops payments, the CMS can take action to force them to pay.

The two main disadvantages are that it can increase the hostility between you and an ex and secondly, if you need the CMS to enforce the payments there is a charge.

What is Collect & Pay?

If your ex-partner will not pay child maintenance, you can ask the CMS to collect the money from them to pass to you. This is known as Collect & Pay and incurs a charge for both of you. Having said that, those who have experienced domestic abuse may have the fees waived.

Collect & Pay allows the CMS to take money directly from an ex-partner’s wages and they can also force the sale of property and belongings. For this service the CMS adds a 20% fee to the amount of the maintenance payments, while the parent receiving the maintenance payments gets 96% of the amount and the CMS keep 4% as a fee.

So, if maintenance was set at £1,000 a month, the CMS would take £1,200 from the maintenance payer’s wages and the maintenance receiver would receive £960.

Can child maintenance payments be amended?

It is possible to vary the amount of child maintenance payments when an ex-partner’s income or wealth changes. With a family-based agreement, there is the ultimate flexibility to amend payments. Alternatively, a family lawyer can advise on updating any court order you may have to reflect the new circumstances.

If you move in with, marry or enter a civil partnership, the payments should not be affected. However, you may agree with an ex that payments can change to reflect a new income level. If stepchildren are part of the picture, we strongly advise seeking the advice of a family lawyer.


If you are struggling with the impact of divorce and separation, we offer a no obligation initial consultation for a fixed fee of £100 (incl. VAT), for up to one hour. At this meeting, we can advise you on all the issues relating to your personal circumstances, allowing you to make informed decisions moving forward.

To book an appointment please call 01444 472700, email us at or complete the form below.

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