How long do you pay child maintenance for
Child Arrangements  |  Child law  |  Family law

How long do you pay child maintenance for?

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It’s a simple question, but with a not quite so simple answer.How long do you pay child maintenance for

For the sake of this post we will assume that the parents have separated and that the children live mainly with one of the parents. We will call that parent the ‘parent with care’, or ‘PWC’, and the other parent the ‘non-resident parent’, or ‘NRP’ (these are terms that are no longer officially used, but they make it easier to explain what follows).

When the parents separate they will obviously need to sort out a child maintenance arrangement. Hopefully, they will be able to do this between themselves by agreement, but if not then they will need to have it sorted out for them.

Until the advent of state-arranged child support maintenance under the Child Support Act 1991, that meant the PWC applying to the court for a child maintenance order.

As we will see in a moment, the court still has the power to make child maintenance orders. However, the Act took away that power in the vast majority of cases, giving it instead to what is now the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’).

Accordingly, in most cases where the parents cannot agree a child maintenance arrangement they (usually the PWC) will have to ask the CMS to sort it out for them.

Child Maintenance via the CMS

So how long does a CMS child maintenance arrangement last?

The answer to this is actually quite simple.

A CMS child maintenance arrangement lasts until the child attains the age of sixteen, or if they are in full-time education (up to and including A level or equivalent), until they attain the age of twenty. (It should be remembered that since 2013 the law has required that young people continue in education until the age of eighteen, unless they are in employment or training.)

But the end of a CMS child maintenance arrangement does not necessarily mean the end of the NRP’s liability to maintain the child.

What happens if, as is obviously often the case, the child goes into advanced (i.e. tertiary) education, or remains dependent beyond the age of twenty for some other reason? Can the NRP be required to pay maintenance for the child in such circumstances?

The answer is yes, but as the CMS no longer has jurisdiction the matter has to be dealt with by the court.

Child maintenance via the court

As mentioned above, the court still retains the power to make child maintenance orders, just as it did prior to the coming into force of the Child Support Act.

But the rules as to how long the maintenance lasts under an order are quite different to the rules as to how long a CMS maintenance arrangement lasts.

The starting-point is that a child maintenance order should not extend beyond the date of the child’s eighteenth birthday.

However, the court can order that the maintenance should continue beyond the child’s eighteenth birthday, if the child is still in full-time education, or if there are special circumstances, for example where the child remains dependent because they suffer from a disability.

The next question, then, is what is ‘full-time education’?

The answer to that depends on the court, but the court can include tertiary education up to degree level, including any gap year. Accordingly, a NRP could potentially be required to pay maintenance until the child is twenty-two years old.

In short, you will be liable to pay child maintenance until the child attains the age of sixteen, but could be liable all the while they are in full-time education, which can include tertiary education.

As we stated at the outset, hopefully separating parents will be able to sort out child maintenance arrangements by agreement, but if they do then they should also agree how long the maintenance should last, having regard to the above.

If you need help sorting out child maintenance arrangements, including how much should be paid, then you should seek expert legal advice.

How can we help?

For further information, please see the Child Arrangements page.

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