What Child Maintenance is Due?


If you are having to pay, or if you receive, maintenance for your children for the first time, knowing the principles that the law applies to you and the likely level of the obligation is really important.

No one claims the existing system is perfect – and we tend to find that for some families, the calculations seem to ignore the justice and merits of some situations – either with payments that are too high or too low.  Often this is because their circumstances just aren’t a good fit for the way that the calculation works.

It is particularly difficult for those earning higher sums – over £3k per week – you have to start with understanding the CMS approach and then grapple with what the court might do, whether to top up with a further award and, if so, the level.

The child support formula is now in its 3rd version:

  • A formula that looked at both parents’ capacity to contribute ran from 1993 to 2003 but is now completely abandoned;
  • Then a simpler formula that looked entirely at the paying parent’s situation took over;
  • Then this system was phased out from 2012, being replaced by a system that worked out the answer generally from what information was held by HMRC about the paying parent’s income.

Alongside and in particular since 2003, there has been a debate going at court as to how judges should respond when they have to make decisions.

The basic rules with the CMS are pretty simple:

Who is the one due to pay?

The CMS first works out who has care of the child(ren) to a lesser extent: they will be the one paying maintenance to the other.

How much does the payer earn?

Then you look at the payer’s income – there are lots of detailed rules about exactly which set of numbers you take.

Deduct pension contributions

Pension contributions are deducted.

And then you carry forward the result.  The CMS will look at incomes of up to £3,000 per week before tax and national insurance.

Make an allowance for other children at home with the payer

Where the paying parent has children living with them (perhaps from a new relationship – or perhaps the children of their new partner live in the home), a deduction is made to reflect the notional costs this paying parent has to support those other children.

Apply the rates

Then a percentage tariff is applied.

Make an allowance for overnights

And that result is reduced to reflect overnight stays.

You can find a calculator for this here.

But all families are different.  There has been a brave attempt in creating this system to deal with every possible scenario  – those of us on the advice side would say “it is not right yet and anyway one system for everyone that delivers fairly is just not possible”.  We also know that the attempts so far to fine tune it have created a pretty brutal labyrinth of rules for parents who just want to know an answer.

And if it was all as simple as that calculator suggests, CMS officers would not have a 780 page textbook to refer to, hundreds of pages of internal guidance and there would not be thousands of child support cases waiting to be decided.

I wish we could dismiss these detailed rules as having no great impact – but they are often really significant.  It is why we have put online a new calculator found here.

The calculator:

  • is there to help those earning above £200 per week;
  • it shows what the government calculator will show; but
  • it also introduces some of the detailed rules; and
  • it goes on to explain how the courts might deal with higher incomes.

For those whose cases are being dealt with through the child maintenance service, we tend to find that NACSA (here) is the best place to go. They are truly experienced, helpful, affordable and professional.

But where incomes are higher, children are going to university, have additional needs or the family is international, advice from a lawyer is likely to be needed.

We wrote our system primarily for professionals – who will have some familiarity at least with the nuances, that otherwise may just feel too bizarre to believe if you are coming to look at the system for the first time.  So you may want to use this calculator, working alongside your advisor and if yours is one of those higher income/ complex cases and you have no advisor then we are more than happy to see if we can help.

If you would like to speak to a family law specialist about child maintenance, please contact director James Pirrie (E: jp@flip.co.uk or T: 020 7420 5000) or contact any of our other specialist divorce lawyers:

T: +44 (0)20 7420 5000

E: hello@flip.co.uk