Understanding the Duration of Child Maintenance Payments

Understanding the Duration of Child Maintenance Payments

The cost of raising a child may be much higher than you think. Research conducted by the Yorkshire Building Society calculates that the average couple will spend around £150,000 to raise their child up to the age of 18. However, for single parents, the cost is noticeably higher, at around £200,000. That’s the equivalent of almost £1,000 per month.

When a couple decides to separate, the financial burden of caring for a child can be a heavy burden to shoulder alone. That’s why in the UK, both parents are required to contribute towards the financial cost of raising a child. This is known as child maintenance.

How long are parents typically obligated to pay child maintenance for, and are there any circumstances that can alter this duration?

Child maintenance is a financial arrangement which is put in place to cover a child’s living expenses if the parents are separated. It’s payable until the child reaches 16 and leaves full-time education. This is extended up to the age of 20 if the child remains in full-time secondary education or undertakes vocational training.

In limited circumstances, those durations may change. Examples of when child maintenance payments may be curtailed before the age of 16 or 20 include if the child themselves gets married or begins to live independently from their family. It also becomes more complicated if the child and main carer live abroad, or if the paying parent lives abroad and an existing child maintenance agreement hasn’t been made legally binding.

What steps can parents take to ensure clarity and fairness regarding the duration of child maintenance payments?

Child maintenance can be arranged privately between the two parents or, if no agreement can be reached independently, through the courts.

If the Child Maintenance Service gets involved, it will consider details such as:

  • The parent’s annual income.
  • How many other children the paying parent has
  • In the event of other children, whether maintenance payments are also being made for those children – and how much those payment are.
  • How much time the child spends with the parent.

It isn’t always necessary to involve the Child Maintenance Service. You may be able to come to an agreement privately with the other parent. This is known as a family-based arrangement. Government research conducted in 2022 found that around 75% of parents who co-parent without conflict opt to make their arrangements privately. The Ipsos MORI Survey of Separated Parents also found that family-based arrangements contributed to more amicable relationships between separated parents – this can make it easier to deal with unexpected expenses when they crop up.

If you hope to agree a maintenance plan privately, there are some practical questions that you’ll need to discuss to ensure your agreement is clear, fair, and appropriate to all parties.

For example, how will any unexpected additional expenses be dealt with?

Will the monthly maintenance payment also cover things like replacing school uniforms or payment for extra-curricular activities such as music lessons or tutoring? If not, will those costs be covered by one parent, or will they be split? In the event of costs being shared, will each party assume equal responsibility?

Will the monthly payment be for a fixed amount or, will it reflect earnings? A parent who has irregular shift work or earns commission may find that their earnings fluctuate through the year. How will this be accounted for so that the parent with day-to-day responsibility of the child is able to budget for expenses relating to the child’s upbringing?

How much will the paying parent contribute to the care of the child? For example, will they have overnight visits once per week, each weekend or less frequently?

As with a child maintenance payment imposed by the Child Maintenance Service, it’s a good idea to review your family-based agreement on an annual basis. This ensures that any change in circumstances are factored into the payment amount.

Are there any legal provisions that govern the modification of child maintenance payments over time?

Certain changes in circumstances must be reported to the Child Maintenance Service and may influence the amount of child maintenance payments to be paid.

For example, if there is a change in the designated main carer for the child, the maintenance payments may be amended to reflect that change. If shared care increases to the point where both parents have the child for an equal amount of time, the child maintenance payment may not need to be paid.

The Child Maintenance Service will also conduct an annual review which will reflect any changes in circumstances, earnings or benefits that may also impact child maintenance payments over the forthcoming 12 months.

Our family solicitors are on hand to offer practical support and impartial advice if you need to reach a child maintenance agreement with your child’s other parent. Contact us to discuss your circumstances in confidence.

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