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How can I get my ex-partner to pay child maintenance?

Our People - Olivia Allen
9 September, 2022

There are three main options for arranging child maintenance payments with your ex-partner where you are NOT married, these are informal/family based agreements, using the Child Maintenance Service and through a court order.

Informal or family based agreements

This is where you and your ex-partner arrange child maintenance between you.

You do not need a solicitor for this. You can do this yourselves, or use a mediator (an independent third party) to help you reach an agreement if you need extra support to do so. You both need to be willing to go to mediation. You can search for a mediator on the Family Mediation Council website.

This kind of agreement is NOT legally binding, and your ex-partner could simply stop paying the agreed amount.

This agreement can also include the arrangements for your ex partner to spend time with a child without having to go to court.

Do remember that that whether or not child maintenance is paid does not have an impact on whether or not your ex-partner can see the children. The issue of spending time with the children and payment of child maintenance are not linked.

You should use the Child Maintenance Service website to calculate the amount of child maintenance you are entitled to, to make sure you are receiving the correct amount.

Using the Child Maintenance Service (CMS)

It may be that you have not been able to reach an agreement with your ex-partner yourself, or you had an agreement that has now broken down. Alternatively, there may have been domestic violence in the relationship which makes direct communication difficult.

You can make an application to the CMS yourself for child maintenance payments to be calculated and arranged.

Who can make an application to the CMS?

You can apply to the CMS if you are the person with day-to-day care of the child. You could be their parent or someone like a grandparent. You must be entitled to Child Benefit for the child. 

You can only apply to the CMS if all the following rules apply to your family:

  • You are all ‘habitually resident’ in the UK.
  • The child is a ‘qualifying child’. This means they are under 16 or under 20 and in approved education, and they’ve never been married or in a civil partnership.
  • No one else already gets maintenance for the child through the CMS.

Please note that you cannot ask the CMS to arrange maintenance if you get maintenance under a court order which is less than a year old. 

How to make an application

You can call Child Maintenance Service on: 0800 171 2345 (Welsh language: 0800 408 0308). They will explain how you can get the maintenance. If you decide to apply, you will be given a reference number. You can use this to progress your application online.

Alternatively, you can get full details and start the application online.

You can also write to the Child Maintenance Service:

Child Maintenance Service (England, Scotland, Wales cases)
Child Maintenance Service 21
Mail Handling Site A
WV98 2BU


Child Maintenance Service (Northern Ireland cases)
Child Maintenance Service 24
Mail Handling Site A
WV98 2BU

It costs £20 to apply to the Child Maintenance Service, but you won’t have to pay if you are either under 19 or have experienced domestic violence or abuse.

How much will I get?

Child maintenance is calculated by considering things such as: how much your ex-partner earns; how many children you are seeking child maintenance for; how many nights they stay with your ex-partner; and if your ex-partner lives with/cares for any other children.

How much money your partner has or earns will be crucial to how much you may be able to get. And if they are on certain benefits, you will only be able to get £7 a week.

You can calculate how much you might be entitled to on the Government website.

How will I receive the payment?

The CMS can arrange for payments in 2 ways:

  1. Direct Pay: the CMS calculates how much child maintenance should be paid, but you and your ex-partner arrange how it will be paid between you.
  2. Collect and Pay: the CMS calculates how much child maintenance should be paid, collects the money from your ex-partner and passes it to you.

What if my ex-partner doesn’t pay?

What you can do if your ex-partner doesn’t pay depends on how the payment is arranged out of the 2 options above.

You should first try to speak to your ex-partner to see why they are not paying. If you cannot, you can ask the CMS to collect the child maintenance instead.

There are ‘enforcement measures’ the CMS can do to get the money you are owed from your ex-partner, including:

  • The CMS can try to get the arrears from your ex-partner’s earnings, benefits, or bank or building society account. 
  • The CMS can apply to court for a ‘liability order’. This means they can ask bailiffs to take goods from the other parent and sell them. 
  • If your ex-partner owns their home, the CMS can also ask a court for an order to sell it. The CMS can use any money raised to pay off the arrears.

Visit the Citizen’s Advice website which provides more details on options available.

Further details about using the CMS can be found on:

Court-ordered arrangement

You might want to make an application for a court order in relation to child maintenance if child maintenance cannot be agreed or your ex-partner won’t agree to pay any child maintenance.

You can do this by making an application to the Family Court under Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989 to get a court order for financial provision.

Under this legislation you can apply for various orders – not just maintenance – including: –

  • Periodical payments – monthly instalments of maintenance
  • Secured periodical payments – monthly instalments of maintenance
  • A Lump sum payment
  • Settlement of property for the benefit of the child
  • Transfer of property to you on the child’s behalf or to the child themselves.

The benefits of seeking a legal agreement (called a court order) are that it is legally binding and as such, if your ex-partner doesn’t pay, there will be legal remedies to help enforce it. We advise that you seek legal advice if you wish to enforce a court order that your ex-partner is not complying with.

The main disadvantage of going to court is that it is a complex process and it is recommended you get legal representation, though this can be very expensive. Please consider however that whether you get legal representation or not, there is also always the risk that you will be required to pay the legal costs of the other side, for example if they are themselves legally represented.

Another disadvantage with a court order, is that it is not as flexible as an informal family-based agreement – if there are problems or if you want to vary the arrangement, you will have to go back to court to vary the order.

Unfortunately, you are NOT able to get Legal Aid to make an application to the court for child maintenance where you are unmarried (this is not so if you are married). As such, any legal representation would have to be paid for on a privately paying basis. As such, we advise that you try all other avenues first, as detailed above, before considering going to court.

If you would like any help or advice on child maintenance payments or any issues relating to child proceedings, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Children Matters Team or get in touch on 020 8492 2290.

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