How much child maintenance should be paid?

Child Maintenance Options logoHow much child maintenance should be paid is a common question for most separated parents. The answer will depend on the individual circumstances of you and your separated family.

If you can, it's almost always best if you can sort out how much child maintenance is paid directly with the other parent. This means you can control how much child maintenance is paid, and when. This is called a family-based arrangement.

Agreeing a child maintenance amount

Most separated parents find that the best way to agree on a child maintenance amount is to do the following:

  1. Look at how much money you and the other parent have got coming in and going out
  2. Work out what your child needs and what these things cost
  3. Decide between you who should pay for what

Step 1: Look at how much money you and the other parent have got coming in and going out

One of the best ways to get an accurate picture of your finances is to make a budget. This will show how much money you have coming in, what's going out and what you have left over. You might want to suggest to the other parent that they do this, too.

Child Maintenance Options has a free budget planner that can help you with this step.

Writing things down might help you clearly show the other parent how much you've got to live on. Remember though, this works both ways.

Step 2: Work out what your child needs and what these things cost

What does your child regularly need money for? For example, all children need food and clothes. Babies will also need things like nappies, while older children might need equipment for school.

You might also need to think about the cost of:

  • Childcare
  • Activities such as swimming lessons, or days out

The cost of raising your child form aims to help you work out what your child's needs are.

Again, when you've got things written, it can help to demonstrate to the other parent how the costs of raising children really do add up.

Step 3: Agree between you who should pay for what

The final step is to agree how you will share the costs of raising your children. How you choose to share the costs of raising your children is up to you and the other parent to agree on.

  • You might decide to 'split the difference'
  • You might want to vary the amount, according to how much you each earn
  • Another way is to agree that one parent pays for the larger one-off expenses, while the other pays for day-to-day costs
  • Alternatively, you could agree that one parent pays a regular set amount to the other parent
  • You could even decide that no money changes hands because you share the care of your child - eg they could stay with the non-resident parent during the school holidays, or a couple of nights a week.

The important thing is that:

  • You both agree to the arrangement
  • The arrangement provides reliable financial support, which helps towards your child's everyday living costs

It's a good idea to write down what you agree on - you can do this using a family-based arrangement form.

How much child maintenance is paid through the Child Maintenance Service?

You may decide that regular payment of a set amount of money is the best option. If so, you might want to base this amount on what your payments would be if you used the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), which as of 2014 is replacing the Child Support Agency.

You can get a rough idea of this figure using the Child Maintenance Options online child maintenance calculator. It uses the same formula to work out child maintenance payments as the CMS. It takes into account things such as:

  • The non-resident parent's income
  • The number of children they need to pay child maintenance for
  • How often the child or children stays overnight with them
  • The number of other children the non-resident parent (or their partner) receive child benefit for

More help with child maintenance

Child Maintenance Options is a free service for separated families. It provides information and support (including a range of useful tools). Visit, or if you'd prefer a confidential chat, call the Child Maintenance Options team on 0800 988 0988 (free from a landline).

Watch a video about how Child Maintenance Options works


  • Chat about sorting out your child maintenance


This content is supplied by Child Maintenance Options. It is not a substitute for independent professional advice and you should get professional advice relevant to your particular circumstances.

Last updated: over 1 year ago