Proud to be celebrating 170 years in business

News and Events

How Child Maintenance Evolved

View profile for Gail Strange
  • Posted
  • Author

Child maintenance goes back to the first Elizabethan age, where laws were introduced to punish the parents of children born outside marriage and put the father under extreme pressure to support their child. 

This developed over the centuries to allow parishes to claim restitution from parents for supporting the destitute, through Poor Relief in the 18th and 19th centuries until in the early 20th century when welfare and divorce laws were developed to provide maintenance to one parent families which had become more commonplace when divorce became easier to obtain.

The modern child support system was developed in the 1990s with the “Children Come First” White Paper attempting to unify the fragmented, slow and inefficient child maintenance system which was placing a burden on social security benefits, and in 1993 the Child Support Agency was first introduced in the UK.  However, many parents lacked confidence in its administration, which was dogged with inaccurate calculations and a lack of enforcement against debts.

Despite a simplified formula being proposed in 2003 this was never realised and in 2008 yet another report found the system was unfit for purpose. 

Child Maintenance for separating parents, divorcing couples and high income families

This led to the current Child Maintenance system, introduced in 2012, which focused on the benefits of parents arranging their own maintenance payments and promoted a family-based arrangement rather than a statutory scheme.

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) replaced the infamous CSA and the rules on how to calculate maintenance were simplified, using the absent parent’s gross income as the basis for working out maintenance.

The calculation makes allowance for pension contributions, the number of nights the children spend with the paying parent and any children living in the same household as the paying parent.  A basic calculation can be obtained online which can guide parents to come to an agreement about the amount that should be paid.

If there is a dispute between parents, or if one parent does not engage, either can apply to the CMS for a formal assessment and the CMS have powers to check income records with HMRC to carry out their assessment.  The CMS can vary the amount payable to take account of other types of income or assets, or for payments being made to joint debts.

The CMS can also collect payments directly from the paying parent although they will charge a fee to both parents if this becomes necessary.

Maintenance is payable until a child is 16, or if they remain in full-time education beyond their 16th birthday studying A level or equivalent, it can be payable until the child is 20. 

Many parents agree child maintenance as part of a divorce settlement and this can be recorded in a consent order which binds both parents to the agreed sum for a minimum of 12 months, following which either parent can ask the CMS to carry out an assessment which will override the court ordered maintenance.   In some situations, court ordered child maintenance can be resurrected even if the CMS has carried out an assessment.

Alongside the CMS there is provision in the Children Act 1989 for parents to provide additional support for their children such as housing or lump sums for specific items, or in situations where the paying parent’s gross income exceeds £3,000 per week, the limit used by the CMS. 

For this reason, many parents would benefit from taking legal advice about child maintenance and how it can be set out to the benefit of both parties and more importantly for the children, whether you were married or not.

We have a team of specialist lawyers at Biscoes and we can advise you of your rights and guide you on how best to approach child maintenance – go to to contact us.