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Child Maintenance - CMS or the Court?

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Sadly, relationship breakdown affects not only the couple breaking up, but also any children of the family, whether they are natural children, adopted or step-children. Whilst most separating couples agree that their priority is their children’s welfare at this time, often the parent with care of the children is left with no other option than to seek financial assistance from the other parent so that they can continue to care for the children of the family.

For the purposes of child maintenance, a child is defined as being aged under 20 years old and in full time education up to A-levels or equivalent.

Generally speaking, the vast majority of child maintenance claims will be dealt with amicably by the separating parties, however, when a dispute arises, who should you turn to? The Court, or the state’s Child Maintenance Service (“CMS”)?

The Child Support Agency no longer takes on new claims, therefore, your first step is to contact Child Maintenance Options so that you can discuss the arrangement options available to you. If you choose to use CMS, you will need to provide them with some personal details about yourself, the children and your former partner. There is an application fee of £20 and most cases are set up in about one month, although this can take longer if the paying parent is not easily contactable.   

On the other hand, the Court can deal with some child maintenance claims in circumstances where CMS has no jurisdiction, or as part of a Financial Order in circumstances where the parties agree that the child maintenance should be set out within the Order. The legislation in this area is drafted to state that twelve months after the date of the Financial Order, either party can apply to CMS for child maintenance calculations. If this happens, the part of the Order dealing with child maintenance becomes obsolete and does not apply. The remaining terms of the Order, however, are unchanged. Notably, if neither party applies to CMS, the terms of the Order in respect of child maintenance remain, and as such, can be enforced in Court should the paying party default.

If you would like further information about Private Law Children’s Matters please contact a member of our specialist Family Law Team.