How much child maintenance should I pay?

If you and your ex-partner have children, you’re both expected to continue to pay towards their costs after you separate. And often that means one parent will pay the other. You can agree this between you or, if you can’t agree, ask the Child Maintenance Service to calculate the amount.

Arranging child maintenance yourselves

If you and the other parent are arranging child maintenance between you, you’re free to decide the amount one parent pays the other. This is referred to as a family-based arrangement.

While the Child Maintenance Service doesn’t need to be involved if you do this, it’s a good idea to check the amount you agree against what they would assess it to be.

It’s important to think about what you’d like to include in this payment and how you’d like to pay:

  • Do you want to pay a fixed regular amount or will you vary it to help with extra expenses throughout the year?
  • Do you want to cover the cost of things like school uniform, activities or holidays?
  • Do you want to pay a percentage of your earnings? If your earnings fluctuate, this might be helpful to you but it would mean the amount of child support is less predictable.

How much are you expected to pay?

If you can’t agree how much child maintenance one parent should pay the other, you can ask the Child Maintenance Service to calculate it for you.

They’ll take into account:

  • how many children you have
  • the paying parent’s income
  • how much time children spend with the paying parent
  • whether the paying parent is paying child maintenance for other children.

When does child maintenance stop?

You’re normally expected to pay child maintenance until your child is 16, or until they’re 20 if they’re in school or college full-time studying for:

  • A-levels
  • Highers, or
  • equivalent.

Child maintenance might stop earlier – for example, if one parent dies or the child no longer qualifies for child benefit.

How your income affects how much you pay

There are different child maintenance rates according to the paying parent’s gross weekly income – this means how much you receive before things like tax and National Insurance are taken off.

Child maintenance amounts based on weekly pay
Gross weekly income
Rate
Weekly amount

Unknown

Default

£38 for one child, £51 for two children, £61 for three or more children

Below £7

Nil

You don’t pay any child maintenance

Between £7 and £100 or if you’re on benefits

Flat

£7 a week

Between £100.01 and £199.99

Reduced

Between £200 and £3,000

Basic

(2021 figures - see GOV.UK for more information.)

If your gross weekly income is more than £3,000, you can apply to the court to make a child maintenance ‘top-up’ order.

But before the court will deal with your application, they’ll need to see a Child Maintenance Service calculation showing this.

How the number of children affects how much you pay

If you’re paying child maintenance and you’re on the basic rate of child maintenance, the amount you pay will depend on the number of children you’re being asked to pay for.

The figures below assume that your children stay with the parent who receives child maintenance all the time.

On the basic rate, if you’re paying for:

  • one child, you’ll pay 12% of your gross weekly income
  • two children, you’ll pay 16% of your gross weekly income
  • three or more children, you’ll pay 19% of your gross weekly income.

How shared care affects child maintenance

Many parents decide to share the care of their children.

If your children spend some time with the paying parent, this will reduce the amount of child maintenance he or she pays.

There are different ‘bands’ which determine how much child maintenance is reduced by.

The amount of child maintenance is reduced for each child who spends time with the paying parent.

If over the year your child is with the paying parent between:

  • 52 and 103 nights: child maintenance is reduced by 1/7th for each child
  • 104 and 155 nights: child maintenance is reduced by 2/7th for each child
  • 156 and 174 nights: child maintenance is reduced by 3/7th for each child
  • 175 nights or more nights: child maintenance is reduced by 50%, plus an extra £7 a week reduction for each child.

Paying for children from another relationship

If the paying parent’s gross weekly income is between £200 and £3,000, and they pay child maintenance for other children, this is taken into account when working out how much they should pay.

The Child Maintenance Service simply reduces the amount of weekly income that it takes into account. For example, if the paying parent is paying for:

  • one other child, their weekly income will be reduced by 11%
  • two other children, their weekly income will be reduced by 14%
  • three or more other children, their weekly income will be reduced by 16%.
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