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When Does Child Maintenance Stop?

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Child maintenance is a crucial aspect of ensuring that children’s financial needs are met after the separation or divorce of their parents. While child maintenance plays a vital role in providing for the well-being of children, it’s essential to understand when these payments cease. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the factors that determine when child maintenance stops, how to arrange child maintenance, the calculations involved, and what to do if your ex-partner refuses to make these payments. By the end of this article, you’ll have a clear understanding of when child maintenance comes to an end and the steps involved in the process.

What Is Child Maintenance?

Child maintenance, often referred to as child support, is the financial support provided by one parent to the other to cover the costs of raising their child. This support aims to ensure that the child’s financial needs are met, and it typically includes expenses related to food, clothing, housing, education, and healthcare. Child maintenance is a legal obligation in the UK, and it is crucial to understand how it works.

What Age Does Child Maintenance Stop?

Child maintenance payments do not continue indefinitely. The age at which child maintenance stops depends on several factors. In the UK, the general rule is that child maintenance payments continue until the child reaches the age of 16 or 20 if they are in full-time education, up to A-levels, or equivalent. However, there are exceptions to this rule. If the child is disabled or if both parents agree to extend the payments, child maintenance may continue beyond the age of 20.

How to Arrange Child Maintenance?

Arranging child maintenance can be done through various methods. The UK has a government service known as the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) that can help calculate and arrange child maintenance. Here are the steps to arrange child maintenance:

  1. Contact the CMS: You can contact the CMS to open a child maintenance case. They will calculate the amount to be paid based on your financial circumstances and the child’s needs.
  2. Provide Required Information: Both parents will need to provide information about their income, living arrangements, and the child’s details to ensure an accurate calculation.
  3. Agree on Payments: If both parents can agree on the payment amount, they can make a family-based arrangement without CMS involvement. Family mediation can play an important role as mediators can potentially assist in reaching agreements about child maintenance.
  4. Payment Collection: The CMS can collect payments from the paying parent and transfer them to the receiving parent if necessary.

What is the Child Maintenance Service (CMS)?

The Child Maintenance Service is a UK government agency dedicated to facilitating child maintenance arrangements between parents who are separated, divorced, or no longer living together. It serves as a central authority for calculating, arranging, collecting, and, if needed, enforcing child maintenance payments. The CMS’s primary mission is to ensure that children continue to receive the financial support they require to meet their essential needs, even when their parents are no longer in a relationship.

How Much Should You Pay for Child Maintenance?

The amount to be paid for child maintenance is calculated based on the paying parent’s income and various other factors, including the number of children involved. The CMS uses a formula to determine the payment amount. This formula considers the gross income of the paying parent, the number of children they need to support, and any other relevant factors. The specific calculation can vary from case to case, but the CMS provides an online calculator to estimate the amount.

Who Is Entitled to Child Maintenance?

In general, child maintenance is paid to the parent with primary custody of the child (the parent who has the child most). However, it’s essential to note that child maintenance is meant to benefit the child directly, not the receiving parent. If you have shared custody, the amount may be adjusted accordingly, taking into account the time the child spends with each parent.

The Benefits of Private Child Maintenance Arrangement through Mediation vs. the CMS

When it comes to child maintenance, parents have two primary options: arranging payments through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) or creating a private arrangement with the assistance of mediation. Both approaches have their advantages, but opting for a private arrangement in mediation often offers several benefits over going through the CMS. Let’s explore these advantages in detail.

Flexibility and Tailored Solutions:

  • Private Arrangement: Mediation allows parents to customise child maintenance arrangements to suit their unique circumstances. This flexibility includes determining the payment amount, frequency, and any special considerations, making it easier to address specific needs and financial situations.
  • CMS: The CMS employs standardised guidelines to calculate child maintenance, which may not fully account for individual circumstances. This rigidity can lead to less flexibility in meeting the child’s actual financial requirements.

Better Communication and Cooperation:

  • Private Arrangement: Mediation encourages open and constructive communication between parents. It provides a platform for both parties to express their concerns, discuss the child’s needs, and reach mutually agreeable solutions.
  • CMS: The CMS can sometimes create an adversarial relationship, as it may be seen as a legal obligation rather than a cooperative effort. This can lead to disputes and strained communication.

Timely and Cost-Efficient:

  • Private Arrangement: Mediation typically results in quicker agreements. The online mediation is generally more cost-effective compared to engaging with the CMS, which may involve fees and administrative costs.
  • CMS: The CMS process can be more time-consuming, with both parties having to complete paperwork and pay associated fees. Delays in CMS calculations and disputes can extend the time it takes to establish an arrangement.

Privacy and Confidentiality:

  • Private Arrangement: Mediation discussions are confidential. Parents can openly discuss their financial situations, concerns, and agreements without public disclosure.
  • CMS: CMS agreements are not confidential, and details may be accessible to other authorities. This lack of privacy can sometimes be uncomfortable for both parents.

Preserving Relationships:

  • Private Arrangement: By engaging in mediation for a private arrangement, parents can often preserve a more amicable relationship. The focus is on what is best for the child, fostering cooperation and reducing potential tension.
  • CMS: The CMS can sometimes strain relationships between parents, particularly if disputes arise or enforcement actions are necessary. The emphasis may shift from cooperation to compliance.

Ongoing Flexibility:

  • Private Arrangement: Mediation provides a framework for addressing changes in circumstances, such as alterations in income or the child’s needs. Parents can adapt their private arrangements through mediation as needed.
  • CMS: CMS calculations may remain fixed until a formal review, which can be less adaptable to changing conditions.

In conclusion, while the CMS serves as a valuable resource for child maintenance arrangements, many parents find that private arrangements established through mediation offer a more flexible, cooperative, and tailored approach. Mediation allows parents to address the specific needs of their child while maintaining better communication and preserving relationships, ultimately contributing to a more amicable and child-focused arrangement. The benefits of a private mediation arrangement often make it a preferred choice for parents seeking a more customised and harmonious approach to child maintenance.

What Should I Do If My Ex-Partner Refuses to Pay Me Child Maintenance?

 If your ex-partner refuses to pay child maintenance, there are steps you can take to ensure your child’s financial needs are met:

  1. Contact the CMS: If you haven’t already, contact the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to help arrange and collect payments.
  2. Seek Legal Advice: Consult a family lawyer for guidance on legal actions you can take against your ex-partner who refuses to pay child maintenance.
  3. Mediation: Consider family mediation to resolve disputes and establish a child maintenance plan that both parties can agree on.
  4. Enforce the Agreement: If a child maintenance agreement is already in place, explore legal options for enforcing the payments, such as garnishing wages or seizing assets.

Court Proceedings and Non-Payment of Child Maintenance: A Legal Recourse

As previously explained, ensuring the financial well-being of a child is of paramount importance, and child maintenance payments are integral to achieving this goal. However, when a non-resident parent fails to fulfil their child maintenance obligations, court proceedings can be initiated as a legal recourse. Let’s delve into the process and implications of pursuing legal action in cases of non-payment of child maintenance.

  1. Informal Resolution Attempts: Before initiating court proceedings, it is often advisable to attempt informal resolution methods, such as mediation. This can include open and honest communication with the non-paying parent, reminding them of their responsibilities, and seeking an amicable agreement. Many times, non-payment issues can be resolved without legal action.
  2. Child Maintenance Service (CMS): In cases where non-payment persists, the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) can be engaged to facilitate child maintenance arrangements. The CMS can calculate, collect, and transfer payments, ensuring financial support for the child. They can also take enforcement actions such as wage garnishment and asset seizure.
  3. Legal Action through the Courts: When all other avenues have been exhausted, or if the CMS’s enforcement measures prove ineffective, initiating court proceedings becomes a viable option. Legal action is typically initiated in the family court or civil court, depending on the jurisdiction. Here’s how the process typically unfolds:
  • Petition or Application: The parent receiving child maintenance payments, known as the “applicant,” can file a petition or application in court, outlining the non-payment issue and seeking a court order to compel the non-paying parent, known as the “respondent,” to fulfil their financial obligations.
  •  Court Hearing: Both parties will be summoned to attend a court hearing. During the hearing, evidence and documentation, such as financial records, payment history, and any communication regarding child maintenance, will be presented.
  • Court Order: Following the hearing, the court may issue a “court order” that mandates the non-paying parent to meet their child maintenance obligations. The order typically specifies the payment amount, schedule, and any penalties for non-compliance.
  • Enforcement Measures: If the non-paying parent continues to disregard the court order, enforcement measures can be employed. These may include wage garnishment, seizing assets, or other actions to recover the outstanding payments.
  1. Child Maintenance Arrears: In cases where non-payment has resulted in child maintenance arrears (unpaid amounts), the court can also address this issue. The court may order the non-paying parent to clear the arrears through a structured payment plan or other means.
  2. Legal Representation: It is essential for both parties involved in court proceedings to seek legal representation. The applicant may have legal aid to support their case, while the non-paying parent may need legal counsel to present their side of the matter.
  3. Contempt of Court: Continual non-payment despite a court order can lead to a finding of “contempt of court,” which can result in penalties such as fines, community service, or even imprisonment, depending on the severity of the non-compliance.

Court proceedings are a last resort when dealing with the non-payment of child maintenance. While legal action can be effective in ensuring child maintenance payments are made, it is advisable to first explore informal resolution methods and engage the CMS. Court proceedings can be costly and time-consuming, and should only be pursued when all other options have been exhausted. Legal representation is crucial for both parties, and the court has the authority to enforce compliance with child maintenance orders, ensuring the financial well-being of the child remains a top priority.


Child maintenance is a vital aspect of ensuring that children’s financial needs are met after their parents’ separation or divorce. Understanding when child maintenance stops and how to arrange it is crucial for the well-being of the child. While the general rule in the UK is that child maintenance ceases when the child reaches the age of 16 or 20 if in full-time education, exceptions can apply. It’s essential to follow the appropriate steps to arrange child maintenance, ensuring that the child’s needs are met until the appropriate time. In case of any disputes or refusal to pay, seeking assistance through the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), legal action, or family mediation can help resolve the issue and provide for the child’s financial security.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Child maintenance usually ends when the child reaches the age of majority, which varies by jurisdiction but is often 18 or 21. However, specific laws and regulations might differ, impacting the termination age.

Yes, certain circumstances can extend child maintenance, such as if the child is pursuing higher education or has special needs. Agreements made during divorce or separation might also outline conditions for extended support. Legal advice is essential to understand these nuances.

Child maintenance may cease if the child becomes financially independent or starts working, depending on local laws. However, it’s crucial to consult legal experts to ensure compliance with regulations, as rules vary based on jurisdiction.

To stop child maintenance payments, you typically need a court order or a formal agreement modification. Consult with a family law attorney to initiate the legal process. Informal agreements might not hold legally, making it essential to follow the proper legal channels.