Info & Advice

What factors reduce child maintenance payments?

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The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) does not automatically get involved when couples with children separate, as it is hoped that the parents will agree a private arrangement between them. Using the CMS formula can also help parties negotiate private arrangements and determine whether the agreed amount is fair. However, it isn’t always possible to reach an agreement, so the service is there to calculate child maintenance payments and work out how much should be paid.

If you are the paying parent and are looking to reduce child maintenance payments, it will be useful to find out exactly how these payments are calculated. The CMS has a six-step process for working out what the paying parent should pay:

  1. The CMS will ask you to provide wage slips or your P60 showing your yearly gross (before deductions, such as tax, national insurance, and pension) income. They may also contact HMRC to find out this information if the paying parent is unable, or fails, to provide it. They may also check with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to ascertain if the paying parent is in receipt of benefits. Tax credits, student grants, and loans do not count towards an individual’s gross income.
  2. The CMS will then check for things that affect your gross income amount, such as pension payments or costs of supporting other children. At this stage, the paying parent can request additional matters to be taken into account, typically additional expenses you might have (see below for a full list).
  3. Depending on the paying parent’s gross weekly income, one of five rates will be applied:
  • Gross weekly income rate applies as a default amount if the paying parent’s income details are not supplied or unknown – £38 for 1 child, £51 for two children, £61 for 3 or more children
  • Below £7 – NIL £0 rate band will be applied
  • Between £7 and £100, or if the paying parent receives benefits, a flat rate of £7 a week is applied
  • Between £100.01 and £199.99, a reduced amount will be applied and calculated using a formula
  • Between £200 to £3,000, a basic rate is applied using a formula

If the paying parent’s income is over £3,000 per week, the receiving parent is entitled to apply for a court order for additional child maintenance.

  1. The CMS will also take into account the number of any other children the paying parent supports financially. This could include children that live with them or from a previous relationship. These costs can include anything from food costs and travel expenses through to school fees.
  2. Following collation of the above information, the CMS will make a decision about the final figure the paying parent is expected to pay.
  3. Once this calculation has been reached, the CMS will deduct from this amount, the average weekly number of “shared care” nights the children stay with the paying parent. A shared care night is when the child stays overnight with the paying parent.

This information can be useful in helping you decide if what you are currently paying under a private child maintenance arrangement is fair and in line with the amount of maintenance the CMS would ask you to make.

The following people do not have to make any child maintenance payments:

  • Those sharing equal care with the other parent
  • Those in full-time education with no other income
  • Those in prison

Expenses the paying parent can ask the CMS to take into account

If you are not using the CMS and trying to negotiate a fair schedule of child maintenance with your ex, you should consider the following criteria during your calculations. Or, if you are using the CMS, you can ask them to take the following expenses into account:

  • Costs of keeping in regular contact with a child you pay maintenance for. For example, this may include (but is not limited to) fuel to travel between your home and the child’s, or other travel costs such as public transport
  • Costs of supporting a child with a disability or long-term illness who lives with you
  • Repaying debts from a previous relationship
  • Boarding part of boarding school fees for a child you are paying maintenance for
  • Mortgage, loan or insurance payments for the home you previously shared with the receiving parent, providing the receiving parent and your child still lives there.

Each type of expense must cost more than £10 per week, although the costs of supporting a child with a disability or long-term illness can be less than this figure. It is important to note that a paying parent cannot ask for expenses to be taken into account if their gross income is less than £7 per week.

Tips that may help to reduce child maintenance payments

If you cannot rely on any of the other allowed expenses as set out above, read on for further suggestions of ways that may help you reduce child maintenance payments:

  • Ensure you have the right information about your situation – this includes researching whether both parents should be paying the same amount of money for their children’s care and what other support may be available to help with child care costs.
  • Negotiate with your ex – rather than looking for child maintenance loopholes to exploit, try discussing payment issues you may be experiencing directly with the other parent. This often results in a mutually agreeable solution that reduces or defers payments until financial circumstances improve.
  • Apply for a variation – if you believe your situation justifies it, you can apply to the CMS or court for an adjustment to your existing payment schedule. This is known as a variation request and is based on factors such as changes in income, illness, or disability.
  • Claim benefits – if you are struggling with child maintenance payments, check if you qualify for any relevant benefits such as universal credit. This may reduce your financial burden and make payments easier to manage.
  • Make use of employer benefits – some employers offer benefits to help with childcare costs, such as tax free childcare vouchers and employer supported childcare.
  • Consider self-employment – many people find that moving from being an employee to one of self-employment significantly reduces child maintenance liability. Self-employed individuals often have expenses that lowers their earnings, which in turn reduces their child maintenance liability.

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