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When do I stop paying for my children in family law?

When parents separate one question that is often asked is how long will I or my ex have to pay child maintenance for.

Child maintenance

Child maintenance is a regular, usually monthly payment, made by the parent with whom the children do not live (commonly known as the non-resident parent (NRP)) to the other parent (commonly known as parent with care (PWC)). You can agree the amount of child maintenance between you, have it calculated by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) or in certain circumstances the court can order it. If you reach a private agreement it will not be legally binding, so if one of you changes your mind, you will not be held to the terms of the agreement. If you think this is likely it may be better to have an assessment undertaken by the CMS or a court order.

Child maintenance service

The CMS has the power to assess child maintenance when a child is under the age or 16 or is between the ages of 16 and 20 and meets the following criteria:

  • Child benefit is paid in respect of them;
  • They are in full time, non-advanced education at school or college (to end of A-levels or equivalent, not university) which is not provided by their employment or any office held;
  • There is someone who provides day to day care to the child;
  • The PWC, NRP and child are all habitually resident in the UK. If the NRP is not habitually resident in the UK, the CMS will still have the power to make a maintenance calculation if the NRP is an employee of the civil service, member of the armed forced or employed by a prescribed body such as the NHS.

Periodical payments orders

The court can award child maintenance orders (also known as periodical payments orders) if:

  • The CMS does not have jurisdiction;
  • Parents agree a child maintenance order by consent;
  • The order is for a child’s educational expenses or orders for costs attributable to a child’s disability;
  • It is a top up order in circumstances where a CMS calculation has already been made based on the maximum level of income (currently £156,000 per annum);
  • It is an order against a person with care of the child;
  • There is a court order already in existence which includes child maintenance which was made prior to March 2003.

A child maintenance order cannot extend beyond a child’s 17th birthday, unless the court thinks it is right in the circumstances. If so, the order cannot extend beyond a child’s 18th birthday unless the child is, or will be, in training or education or there are special circumstances (for example, the child has a disability).


This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2022.


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