Child maintenance

Child maintenance or child support is paid generally by parents who do not receive child benefit payments from the state. Often this can be a voluntary arrangement between the parents and this private agreement means you do not need to use the Child Support Agency (CSA)/Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) or the courts.

It is important to keep an independent record of payments and receipt of child maintenance in the form of cheques, on-line bank transfer or a written receipt for cash payments which all clearly state in the reference, ‘child support’ or ‘child maintenance’.

Both parents have a legal duty to contribute to the maintenance of a child, this duty is considered fulfilled when the parent who is not the main carer (in the view of the state (not receiving child benefit)) makes payments of child support. This duty only becomes enforceable if there is a court order or an application to the CSA.

The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) objectives are to encourage and support parents to make and keep appropriate voluntary maintenance arrangements and to support applications to the statutory child support scheme, and to enforce liability.

The Child Support Agency (CSA) is responsible for calculating child support payments and in some cases their collection and enforcement.

The courts become involved in child maintenance matters if parents are in court sorting out other financial matters such as pensions, housing, spousal maintenance and the CSA is not already involved. The court can include child maintenance as part of a final order which can then be enforced by them if necessary. After a year of a court order being in force an application to the CSA may be made.

The CSA has no jurisdiction in certain cases such as child support for stepchildren, school or university fees, child’s disability needs, children who have completed secondary education and if a parent without primary care lives abroad.

Before applying to the CSA parents can obtain information from CMEC to help them make voluntary arrangements. If a voluntary arrangement is not possible then applications to the CSA can be made in writing, by telephone, in person, application form sent to applicant or online via their website. Applications to the CSA can be made by either parent once they become a (so-called) primary carer or non-resident parent or at any time later.

Liability for child support starts from the date the non-resident parent (CSA terminology) is notified and this can only happen when an effective application has been completed.

Where parentage is denied or is in doubt, a child support application cannot be decided unless the CSA can assume parentage. Parentage investigations can take place before or after the calculation of payment by the CSA. The CSA may seek a DNA test or court action to establish parentage.