Coronavirus: Is it possible to change levels of child maintenance?

Child maintenance can be paid voluntarily from one parent to another, at source via the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) or as part of a court order. If the wider economic consequences of coronavirus will potentially impact the payment or receipt of child maintenance, it is important to take early action.

Paying child maintenance via CMS

If you are paying child maintenance via the CMS you should take steps to contact them as soon as possible to inform them there has been a significant change in your income circumstances. This will trigger the CMS to reassess your liability and therefore reduce the current level on maintenance if applicable.

Paying child maintenance based on a voluntary agreement

For many parents, the amount of child maintenance paid is based on an agreement that has been reached between you without the need for a formal CMS assessment. There isn’t a set formula for calculating the figure to be paid and therefore the sum payable is usually a balance between how much maintenance is required to ensure the children’s needs are met in comparison to what is affordable to the paying parent.

With sudden changes to income, this may mean it is simply not possible to continue paying the agreed level of child maintenance.

If you find yourself in this position you should consider doing the following:

  1. Start a conversation, whether by telephone, email or letter, with the other parent to explain what has happened, what the impact is and the steps you are taking to mitigate your own expenses. You could propose a temporary reduction in child maintenance and suggest a figure you could afford in the interim. It would also be sensible to agree that any the level of child maintenance will revert inline with an increase in income.
  2. If a conversation between you and the other parent is likely to be difficult, mediation may be a good option to explore. The mediator will act as a neutral third party to facilitate discussions between you to hopefully reach an agreement.

Child maintenance as part of a court order

It is important to remember that you and the other parent are able to voluntarily agree to vary the terms of an order. It is therefore not the case that you would have to go to court to make a change to a court order.

If there is a court order that was made within the last 12 months that specifically outlines a child maintenance obligation, and you do not pay the required level of maintenance, you are technically in breach of the order. This would give the other parent the option to seek enforcement proceedings against you. However, the court has the ability to consider the reason for payments being missed. If this is for a genuine reason - for example, a significant reduction in income - the court may decide to write off all or part of the missed payments. Another option for the paying parent is to make an application for the court for child maintenance to be reduced.

These are uncertain times for all and undoubtedly cause both a paying and receiving parent of child maintenance concern.

Please note: Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice and we are not liable for any reliance on the information provided. This is a rapidly changing subject, and whilst correct at the time of writing, circumstances may have changed since publication. Please refer to for up-to-date advice on the Government’s response to this issue.

To find out more about anything covered in this article, or if you have any concerns about child maintenance, please contact Pascale Devlin or another member of Thrings’ Family team.

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