This information is for single parents in Scotland who would like to arrange child maintenance payments.
Both parents are legally responsible for the financial costs of bringing up their children even if they do not live together as a couple. The amount due for each child will depend on who they live with, and how many nights they spend with their other parent, as well as their other parent’s finances.
If you are the parent who doesn’t have the main day-to-day care of the children, you may have to pay money to the parent looking after the children. This is known as child maintenance payments.
Child maintenance – where to start
There are three options that parents may take to arrange child maintenance:
- a family-based arrangement
- a Minute of Agreement
- the Child Maintenance Service or CMS.
A family-based arrangement is an informal agreement made between both parents. It has the advantage of being free, flexible and suiting both parents, however, it is not legally binding. This means that if a parent who doesn’t pay, they can’t be forced to do so. You will need to negotiate with each other.
Minute of Agreement
In Scotland, provision for payment of child maintenance can be included in a Minute of Agreement. The terms are agreed between both parents with the help of their Solicitors. Once a Minute of Agreement is registered in the Books of Council and Session it can be enforced by sheriff officers in the event that maintenance payments are not kept up.
It is important to note that if you set up a Minute of Agreement, you cannot use the Child Maintenance Service for the next 12 months.
The Child Maintenance Service
If a family-based arrangement wouldn’t work in your case and you do not set up a Minute of Agreement, you can use the Child Maintenance Service. The Child Maintenance Service deals with applications for child maintenance for children under the age of 16, and up to 19, in full-time non-advanced education. In Scotland, children aged 12 and over can apply to the Child Maintenance Service directly.
Using the Child Maintenance Service
Child maintenance options
You will need to contact Child Maintenance Options before you can apply to use the Child Maintenance Service. They will discuss all your options to arrange payments. If you have experienced domestic abuse you can use the Child Maintenance Service without talking about other options.
If you decide that you want to make an application to the Child Maintenance Service, you will be given a reference number that will enable you to proceed with your application.
Child Maintenance Options:
Child maintenance self-service website
You can set up your own account with the Child Maintenance Service. The online service is available for parents and employers. It’s quick and easy to use, and you can access your child maintenance information at a time that suits you.
- view statements and make payments
- upload a document
- update personal details
- view letters and send messages
For more information visit: https://childmaintenanceservice.direct.gov.uk/public/
If you decide you would like to use the Child Maintenance Service there is a £20 application fee. The fee is for access to the service and does not guarantee a result. The fee must be paid upfront within 14 days; otherwise the case will not proceed. There is no application fee if you are under 18.
There is no application fee if you have experienced domestic abuse and reported it to one of the following agencies:
- police or the courts
- medical professionals
- social services
- domestic violence organisations
- educational services
- a local authority
- a legal professional, or
- specialist support services.
Once the maintenance has been calculated it is up to the parents to decide on arrangements for payment. There are two ways that payments can be made – “Direct Pay” or “Collect and Pay”.
With a direct pay arrangement it is up to the parents to agree on how and when the money is paid. For example, this could be by standing order into your bank account, or in cash. You should keep a record of payments in case things go wrong.
Collect and Pay:
If you are using a collect and pay arrangement the Child Maintenance Service will collect the payments from your child’s other parent and pay it to you. Both parents will have to pay collection fees. The paying parent will have to pay 20 per cent on top of the regular maintenance payment. The receiving parent will also have to pay a fee of four per cent, which will be deducted from the maintenance figure they receive.
If the paying parent doesn’t keep up with regular payments the Child Maintenance Service can take action to recover them. The paying parent will have to pay enforcement charges if this happens.
How child maintenance is calculated
After you apply, the Child Maintenance Service should contact HM Revenue & Customs to find out the other parent’s income. The Child Maintenance Service will contact the other parent to ask for details about their circumstances. This will usually include a calculation of how much child maintenance will be payable, based on the information received from HM Revenue & Customs.
Child maintenance is reviewed each year. Payments may be affected by changes in circumstances, such as a change in the paying parent’s income or family circumstances. You should tell the Child Maintenance Service about these changes as soon as you can.
If the paying parent, their employer, or accountant has not supplied gross income information to HM Revenue & Customs for use in making a child maintenance decision, the Child Maintenance Service can ask for this information.
If they do not get the information they need they can either; make a “best evidence assessment”; or make a “default maintenance decision”. A “best evidence assessment” uses previous information held about a paying parent’s gross income, or official statistics, to work out an amount of child maintenance that must be paid.
A “default maintenance decision” applies a default rate based on the number of children the paying parent must pay child maintenance for. The default rates are:
- £39 a week for one child
- £51 a week for two children
- £64 a week for three or more children
There are certain things which affect a paying parent’s income that can be taken into account by the Child Maintenance Service, including payments into pension schemes, certain costs or expenses the paying parent pays, and the number of other children who the paying parent supports.
Child maintenance rates
Child maintenance rates are applied to gross weekly income. The rates differ depending on the gross weekly income amount:
|Rate||Paying parent’s gross weekly income|
|Basic||£200 to £800|
|Basic Plus||£800.01 to £3,000 (the first £800 of income is taken into account using the Basic rate)|
|Reduced||£100.01 to £199.99|
|Flat||£7 to £100 (or receiving benefits)|
|Nil||Less than £7 or where the paying parent is a child or a prisoner.|
The Basic rate applies if the paying parent’s gross weekly income is £200 or more, up to £800. The following percentages will apply:
- 12% for one qualifying child
- 16% for two qualifying children
- 19% for three or more qualifying children
Basic plus rate
The Basic rate is applied to income up to £800, as above, and the Basic Plus rate is then applied to income from £800.01 up to £3,000 in the following percentages:
- 9% for one qualifying child
- 12% for two qualifying children
- 15% for three or more qualifying children
If a paying parent has a gross weekly income of £1,000 and pays child maintenance for two children:
They must pay 16% of their gross weekly income up to £800. This amount is £128. They must pay 12% of their gross weekly income between £800 and £1,000. This amount is £24. The total amount of child maintenance due is £128 + £24 = £152.
Any weekly income above £3,000 is ignored. A parent who wants additional income above £3,000 per week assessed for child maintenance purposes, would have to go to court.
A Reduced rate is applied to paying parents with a gross weekly income of more than £100 but less than £200. The Reduced rate consists of two parts:
- An amount equal to the Flat rate. This currently stands at £7 per week
- A percentage of the balance of income above £100 (see table below).
These rates are:
- 17% for one qualifying child
- 25% for two qualifying children
- 31% for three or more qualifying children
if a paying parent’s income is £110 per week and there is one qualifying child, the child maintenance liability would be £7 + (£10 x 17%) = £8.70.
For gross weekly income of £100 of less, or where a paying parent receives a specified benefit, a Flat rate of £7 applies, regardless of the number of qualifying children.
A Nil rate applies if the paying parent is under 16, under 19 and in full-time education, a prisoner, or if the gross weekly income is not greater than the Flat rate amount.
Students will no longer be exempt from child maintenance liability as in previous child support schemes. Taxable earnings from employment and taxable profits from self- employment will be taken into account but payments made to students (loans and grants) will not count.
You can apply for a variation if you think the parent paying maintenance has other taxable income that wasn’t taken into account in the calculation. If the Child Maintenance Service can identify this extra income, it will be added to the other parent’s gross income and used to make a new calculation. A variation can only be made on certain grounds.
Please call the Lone Parent Helpline for more information about this.
- Lone Parent Helpline: 0808 801 0323
The paying parent can apply for a variation to have their maintenance payments reduced if he/she has certain special expenses. These can include:
- Contact costs
- Costs of a long-term disability or illness of a “relevant child”
- Debts of the relationship
- Boarding school fees
- Costs of paying for a mortgage or loan
In some cases a variation may be considered if your child’s other parent has diverted income or unearned income. In most cases an application for a variation can be made over the phone, but if the application is complicated the Child Maintenance Service may ask you to apply in writing.
Reductions for other children
If your child’s other parent has children from another relationship that don’t live with them, the amount of maintenance you receive will be reduced. The amount the paying parent needs to pay will be split with the other receiving parent. This is known as apportionment.
A relevant other child is a child who lives with the paying parent and his/her partner. Having a relevant other child reduces the amount of maintenance paid to the first household.
Shared care relates to where a child stays overnight and reduces the amount of maintenance payable. If you share care equally, neither of you has to pay maintenance to each other.
Basic, Basic Plus, or Reduced rate
Shared care is taken into account, based on the number of nights of shared care for each child. The more nights that the child or children stay overnight, the more the weekly amount of child maintenance is reduced:
Number of nights of shared care each year
|Number of nights of shared care each year||Reduction to child maintenance|
|52 to 103 nights||1/7th|
|104 to 155 nights||2/7ths|
|156 to 174 nights||3/7ths|
|More than 175 nights||1/2 *|
* Plus additional £7 a week reduction for each child in this band.
If care is shared exactly equally, neither parent has to pay child maintenance to the other under the Child Maintenance Service, even if one parent is financially better off.
If child maintenance is set at the Flat rate because the other parent is in receipt of a specified benefit, shared care for at least 52 nights a year reduces their child maintenance to £0 for that child.
If child maintenance is set at the Flat rate because the paying parent’s income is £100 a week or less, shared care is not taken into account at all.
Disputes – shared care
If there is a dispute about the number of nights the children stay with their other parent, and no agreement is in place, the Child Maintenance Service will make an assumption of one night per week, resulting in a reduction of one-seventh in the maintenance payment.
If the paying parent lives abroad
If your child’s other parent lives abroad, you can’t use the Child Maintenance Service to arrange child maintenance unless your child’s other parent is:
- a UK civil servant or works within Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service
- a member of the armed forces
- working for a company that is based and registered in the UK
- working on secondment for a UK regional health authority or local council.
Child Maintenance Options:
Lone Parent Helpline:
Families Need Fathers:
Scottish Child Law Centre:
Supporting and inspiring single parent families across Scotland
For further information about OPFS or our services, please contact:
One Parent Families Scotland, 13 Gayfield Square, Edinburgh EH1 3NX
Visit our website at www.opfs.org.uk
More help from OPFS
You may also be interested in these related information packs available from OPFS:
We have done our best to ensure that the Information contained in this advice guide is correct at the time of publication. Please check dates and details before use. This advice guide is not a comprehensive guide to the law, nor a substitute for legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss or damage that may arise from your use of services offered by third parties.