How long do I have to pay child maintenance?

Our family law experts answers common queries regarding the legal duration of child maintenance payments in the UK.

10 November 2022

Child maintenance is regular financial support paid by one parent to the other to contribute to a child’s everyday living costs when the parents are separated. One key area our clients often have queries about is how long does a parent need to pay child maintenance?

Our family law specialist, Jenniffer Brunt, has answered some of the most common questions when it comes to your child maintenance payments.

Do I pay child maintenance for over children over 16?

Knowing if you need to pay child support for children over the age of 16 can be an area of confusion. While there is no straight forward answer to this question, here’s the information that can help upon your specific circumstances.

In the UK, child maintenance is normally payable in accordance with the jurisdiction of the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).

For CMS to carry out an assessment – the child must fall into what they call the “qualifying criteria” – where the child is in full time non-advanced education (i.e. school/sixth form) and must not be receiving other financial support or be in paid work. In this category, child maintenance may be payable for young people up to the age of 20, depending on your agreement.

If there is a dispute in regard to the payments, either the parent responsible for the care of the child or the paying parent, can contact CMS.

If a child leaves school at 16 and goes into paid employment – rather than continuing with education, maintenance is no longer compulsory. Although, if the child then decides to go back to full time education, child maintenance is then payable again.

Do I pay child maintenance if my child is at university?

Some divorce financial orders may include a clause for child maintenance to be paid until a child is 18 or until they finish full time university education. However, the paying parent can contact CMS once the child is no longer in the qualifying category, and maintenance payments will stop – even though the court order states it is to be paid.

Including child maintenance in within the financial arrangements, can be beneficial for both parents to avoid having to involve CMS in the future.

Parents should be aware that even If there is a court order in place that includes ongoing child maintenance, any time after 12 months of the date of the order - either parent can go to CMS for reassessment of the maintenance. This can increase or decrease, or even result in maintenance stopping altogether.

If there was an order in place including child maintenance payments - the parent with care can apply to the court for child maintenance to continue while the child attends university.

If there is no court order in place before the child turned 18, the child can apply to the court themselves under the Children Act for ongoing financial support while at university. In these circumstances, parents cannot apply for this.

When either the child or the parent with care makes an application, the court may decide to not restrict the maintenance to just educational expenses, the orders can be made for general maintenance as well.

How we can help

At Slater and Gordon, our focus is helping our clients achieve the best possible outcome for their family law matter. Our expert family solicitors have over 100 years of experience, allowing us to provide tailored legal advice on divorce, child and financial arrangements. We strive to do what we can to make what can be a difficult time as easy as possible. With offices throughout the UK, including Manchester, London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and more, you know you’ll have a children’s law solicitor near you.

For more information, please call 0330 041 5869

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