What should child maintenance cover?

In the context of separation or divorce, ensuring the wellbeing of your child remains a top priority. Child maintenance plays a crucial role in this, offering financial support to meet the everyday needs of your child when co-parenting.

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Understanding what child maintenance should cover can help parents navigate financial responsibilities without the need for stressful court proceedings.

In this guide, we provide insights into the scope of child maintenance, helping encourage a collaborative approach to secure your child's future.

What is child maintenance?

Child maintenance is financial support provided by one parent to the other for the upbringing and welfare of their child after separation or divorce. It ensures the child's living expenses are covered, maintaining a standard of living that promotes their development and happiness.

This support encompasses various aspects of a child's needs:

  • Direct expenses: Basics such as food, clothing, and costs incidental to the provision of housing.
  • Education: School fees, uniforms, and trips.
  • Healthcare: Routine check-ups, dental care, and any special medical needs.
  • Personal and social development: Extracurricular activities like sports and arts, holidays, activities, birthday parties

Child maintenance is essential for ensuring both parents contribute financially to their child's upbringing and wellbeing after a separation or divorce. Initially, parents often try to arrange this support through direct negotiation, aiming to amicably decide on the terms themselves.

However, when these discussions face hurdles and an agreement seems out of reach, mediation offers a next step. With the help of third party mediators, parents have the opportunity to work through their differences and find a mutual agreement.

In cases where reaching a consensus is still a challenge, the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) provides a structured solution. The CMS steps in to calculate and enforce payments, taking into account various factors like income and the number of children.

In certain cases, the court has the authority to step in and make a final determination on child maintenance arrangements. This system ensures children receive consistent support, contributing to their wellbeing and stability despite family changes.

What does child maintenance cover?

Understanding what child maintenance covers is key to ensuring that children receive the support they need following their parents' separation or divorce. At its core, child maintenance is designed to cover the essential aspects of a child's daily life and overall development.

Here's a closer look at what this support typically includes:


Ensuring that a child has a safe and stable environment to live in is fundamental. Child maintenance can contribute towards housing expenses such as rent, mortgage payments, or the maintenance of the home. This support helps in providing a comfortable living space that meets the child’s needs, offering a sense of security and normalcy.

Food and clothing

Adequate nutrition and proper clothing are basic necessities for a growing child. Child maintenance helps cover the costs of providing food for a child. Additionally, it accounts for clothing expenses, ensuring the child is appropriately dressed for all seasons and occasions, from everyday wear to special events.


Child maintenance can cover a range of educational expenses including school uniforms, textbooks, stationery, and other supplies necessary for the child’s learning. It may also encompass contributions towards extracurricular activities that enhance the educational experience, such as field trips or special projects.


Child maintenance can help cover medical expenses, including routine check-ups, vaccinations, dental care, and glasses. For children with special healthcare needs, it can extend to therapy sessions, specialised equipment, or any additional medical care required to support their health and development.

Leisure and activities

Child maintenance can support costs associated with hobbies, sports, music lessons, and other interests that contribute to the child’s growth. These activities not only promote physical health but also help in building self-esteem, social skills, and a sense of belonging.

How is child maintenance arranged?

Arranging child maintenance is a crucial step in ensuring that children receive consistent support from both parents after a separation or divorce. The process can be complex, navigating not just financial considerations but emotional and logistical ones as well.

Here, we outline the five main approaches when it comes to arranging child maintenance:

Direct negotiation

This approach is often the first step for parents seeking to establish a child maintenance agreement. Through direct negotiation, parents communicate openly and directly with each other to decide on the terms of child maintenance.

This method promotes a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation, allowing parents to discuss their financial situations and the needs of their child in a non-confrontational setting. In discussing the amount of child maintenance that is paid, parents will often want to look at their respective budgets and levels of disposable income alongside a consideration of the costs of meeting a child’s financial needs.

Once an agreement is reached, it can be beneficial for both parties to document the terms in a written agreement. While this document is not automatically legally binding, it serves as a tangible commitment to the agreed terms, providing clarity and a point of reference.

Child mediation

In cases where direct negotiation proves difficult, child mediation child mediationserves as a valuable alternative. This process involves both parents working with a third party professional—a mediator—who helps facilitate discussions and guide the parties towards a mutually acceptable child maintenance agreement. Mediators are skilled in handling sensitive discussions, ensuring that both parents' views are heard and considered.

Additionally, mediation can offer a helpful framework for discussing and drafting a parenting plan, an added benefit for families looking to structure their co-parenting arrangements moving forward.

The goal of mediation is not to make decisions for the parents but to help them find common ground and agree on a fair maintenance plan that supports the child’s welfare.

The outcome of successful mediation will be recorded in a written agreement, by the mediator, summarising the negotiated terms. This document, while initially not legally binding, can be made so through further legal steps, reinforcing the agreement's seriousness and enforceability.

Using the Child Maintenance Service (CMS)

When parents are unable to reach an agreement through negotiation, mediation, or a collaborative approach, the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) can provide a structured solution. The CMS is a government-operated service that calculates maintenance payments using a standard formula.

This calculation takes into account various factors, including the paying parent's income, the number of children, and the amount of time the children spend with each parent.

By turning to the CMS, parents can access an impartial determination of maintenance payments, which is enforceable by law.

Court intervention

If all other avenues have been explored and parents are still unable to come to an agreement on child maintenance, in certain situations, the court can become involved pursuant to an application under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989. Not all cases can be taken to court and independent legal advice should be sought before taking this step.

This step is typically considered the last resort due to the potential for increased conflict and the higher costs involved. Court proceedings can provide a legally binding resolution to child maintenance disputes, ensuring that payments are fair and in the best interest of the child.

What about other expenses?

While the primary focus of child maintenance is to cover the essential living costs of the child, such as food, clothing, housing, education, and healthcare, it's important to acknowledge that children's needs extend beyond these basics. Additional expenses, often overlooked during initial discussions, play a significant role in a child's wellbeing and development.

Holiday expenses

Holidays and vacations are an integral part of childhood, offering opportunities for relaxation, exploration, and creating lasting memories. Including holiday expenses in child maintenance agreements can ensure that children continue to experience these joyful moments, contributing to their emotional and psychological wellbeing.

Savings for the child's future

Planning for the child's future is a shared responsibility. This can include saving for their education, such as college or university fees, or setting up a fund to support them as they transition into adulthood. Incorporating future savings into child maintenance arrangements can provide children with a solid financial foundation, offering peace of mind and security for both the child and the parents.

Addressing these additional expenses and including them in the child maintenance plan can help ensure a more comprehensive approach to supporting the child's overall wellbeing and future prospects.

Agreeing on child maintenance with your ex-partner

Reaching an agreement on child maintenance with your ex-partner is a crucial step towards ensuring the ongoing wellbeing and support of your child. While it may seem daunting, approaching these discussions with a positive mindset can lead to beneficial outcomes for all involved, especially the child. Here are some key considerations for a constructive agreement:

Open communication

Transparent and honest communication forms the foundation of any successful negotiation. Discussing child maintenance openly can help both parties understand each other's financial situations and concerns, making it easier to arrive at a fair agreement.

Willingness to compromise

It's unlikely that both parents will have identical views on what constitutes adequate child maintenance. Being willing to compromise and find middle ground is essential. Remember, the focus should always be on meeting the child's needs rather than winning a negotiation.

Prioritising the child's best interests

The primary goal of child maintenance is to ensure that the child's needs are met. Decisions should be made with the child's best interests in mind, including their emotional, physical, and educational wellbeing. This perspective can help guide parents towards a more amicable and effective arrangement.

For parents navigating the complexities of maintaining strong relationships with their children post-separation, situations may arise where a child is hesitant or refusing contact with the non-resident parent. If this is the case for you, you can read our guide on ‘What to do if your child refuses contact with the other parent’ for more advice and guidance.

Seeking professional guidance

Sometimes, reaching an agreement independently can be challenging. Seeking assistance from mediation services or legal professionals can provide structure to the negotiation process, ensuring that the agreement is fair, comprehensive, and in the best interest of the child.

Engaging in child-inclusive mediation, where the mediator directly asks the child questions opens up a valuable avenue for understanding the child's perspective, making it an incredibly beneficial approach. This practice not only acknowledges the child's needs and wishes but also plays an important role in shaping an agreement that truly considers the child's welfare.

You can learn more about the child inclusive mediation services offered by Mediation First.

Child Maintenance Service calculation

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) provides a standardised and impartial process for calculating child maintenance paymentswhen parents are unable to reach an agreement on their own.

Here's a more detailed look into how the CMS calculates child maintenance:

1. Non-resident parent's income

The CMS initiates the process by determining the non-resident parent's yearly gross income. This income assessment includes wages, salary, pension payments, and certain benefits but excludes tax credits, student grants, and loans. The goal is to accurately gauge the non-resident parent's financial resources.

2. Adjustments for other financial responsibilities

The CMS then accounts for factors that might alter the gross income amount, such as pension contributions or support for other children. Parents can also request that additional income, assets, or expenses be considered. The yearly gross income is converted into a weekly figure for the maintenance calculation.

3. Applying child maintenance rates

Based on the weekly gross income, one of five rates is applied:

  • Default Rate: Applied when income information is unavailable, setting a standard payment amount per number of children.
  • Nil Rate: For incomes below £7, indicating no maintenance payment is due.
  • Flat Rate: A £7 weekly payment for low-income earners or those receiving benefits.
  • Reduced Rate: For weekly incomes between £100.01 and £199.99, calculated using a specific formula.
  • Basic Rate: Applied to incomes ranging from £200 to £3,000, with the amount determined by a formula.

For incomes exceeding £3,000 weekly, the receiving parent can seek additional maintenance through court.

4. Considering other children

The calculation also incorporates the number of children the paying parent supports, including those living with them and any existing direct maintenance arrangements for other children.

5. Deciding the weekly child maintenance amount

Using information from the initial steps, the CMS establishes the weekly child maintenance amount, ensuring a contribution towards the child's needs.

6. Adjusting for shared care

Shared care adjustments are made based on the child's overnight stays with the paying parent. The CMS reduces the maintenance amount for parents paying the flat, reduced, or basic rates if the child stays overnight for at least 52 nights a year. The extent of the reduction depends on the total number of overnight stays agreed upon.

Special considerations

The CMS also considers special circumstances that might affect the non-resident parent's ability to pay or the child's financial needs. This can include the costs of maintaining contact with the child, the presence of other children the non-resident parent supports financially, or any additional needs the child may have.


Understanding and agreeing on what child maintenance should cover can be essential for the wellbeing of your child. By focusing on cooperation and amicable solutions, parents can ensure that their child receives the support they need to thrive, even in separate living situations.

Make child maintenance agreements with mediation

Navigating child maintenance doesn't have to be a journey you take alone. With family mediation, the process can become clearer and less daunting, especially during such an emotional and transformative period.

Learn more about how our family and child mediation services can assist in creating a fair and sustainable child maintenance agreement, alongside any other family arrangements that need to be addressed. Explore your options and get in touch:

Online form: Contact us

Tel: 0330 320 7600
Email: office@mediationfirst.co.uk.

At Mediation First, we are experts in helping parents to navigate financial plans whilst promoting collaborative co-parenting. You can listen to one of our directors, Leah Caldwell, speak to Felicity Hannah about the subject at BBC Radio 4 - Money Box, Money Box Live: Co-parenting Finances.