Family Law

Child Support - how much do I need to pay?

An article by Kate Barnett, Partner

Child Support - how much do I need to pay?

If a relationship between parents breaks down (regardless of whether the parents are married), the parent with whom the children spend less time will generally be required to pay child support.

What needs to be paid will be determined by: (i) how many children there are, (ii) the paying parent’s income, (iii) how much time the children spend with the paying parent, and (iv) whether the paying parent needs to support any other children.  Payments are made until a child reaches 16 or longer if certain criteria apply or if the parties agree to a longer term of child maintenance.  

If both parents live in the UK and the paying parent earns less than £156,000 per year pre-tax, then the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) will assess the appropriate level of child support to be paid.  They can also be asked to facilitate payments (although this carries additional cost for both the paying and receiving party). The CMS apply a formula which is fairly complex but can be summarised as follows:

For the first £800 of pre-tax weekly income a paying parent will have to pay the following:

·       12% if there is 1 child;

·       16% if there are 2 children; and

·       19% if there are 3 or more children.

In addition, if the paying parent earns more than £800 pre-tax per week then will have to pay the following from any income above this threshold:

·       11% if there is 1 child;

·       12% if there are 2 children; and

·       15% if there are 3 or more children.

The formula also makes allowance for nights the child(ren) spend with the paying parent in the form of a discount as follows:

·       A discount of 1/7 if the child(ren) spend between 52 to 102 nights with the paying parent;

·       A discount of 2/7 if the child(ren) spend between 103 to 155 nights with the paying parent; and

·       A discount of 3/7 if the child(ren) spend 156 to174 nights with the paying parent.

This is probably best explained by way of an example:

Max and Sam separate. They have 2children aged 5 and 7. They agree they will form their main base with Max but will see Sam on alternate weekends and an additional 3 weeks in the school holidays. Sam earns £120,000 per year pre-tax.

Sam’s gross income = £120,000/52= £2,307.69 per week.

As there are 2 children Sam is required to pay 16% of the first £800 of weekly income by way of child support.

£800 x 16% = £128 per week.

As Sam earns more than £800 per week they will then need to pay a further 12% of income on the excess.

(£2,307.69 - £800) x 12% =£180.92 per week.

This equals an overall commitment of:

£128 + £180.92 = £308.92 per week.

Next we need to make allowance for the nights the children spend with Sam. Alternate weekends equates to 52 nights a year plus a further 21 nights in the holidays so an overall total of 73 nights. We therefore need to apply a 1/7 discount:

£308.92 x 6/7 = £264.78 per week.

Sam’s child support liability is therefore £264.78 per week or £1,147.38 per month (parents tend to pay monthly as generally people receive income monthly rather than weekly).

There is an online calculator on the government’s website which parents can use to get an idea of what child support should be paid. A link to the calculator is here:

If a paying parent earns more than £156,000 per year then this excess income will not be considered by the CMS as this is beyond their jurisdiction and can only be assessed by the Courts. If you fall into this higher category then it is crucial that you seek legal advice as this can be a complicated area of law and the guidance from Judges and the Courts is regularly evolving.