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Separation and child maintenance - recent changes

Tags: help, support, separated parents, separating parents, child maintenance service, family based arrangement, child support agency
Content Types: What to expect
Categories: After Separation

Help and support for separated families

Ending a relationship can be a complicated and painful process, even when we know it’s right to end things. It is natural and often seems easier when things haven’t worked out to want nothing more to do with each other. But when you have kids together this isn’t possible. You need to establish a new sort of relationship with each other …….more businesslike, based on the fact you both want the best for your kids. But of course where there is pain and bitterness its easier said than done. But a bit of support in the early days can go a long way.

Because it is not easy to know where to start the government has just launched Help and Support for Separated Families. New online tools and resources to help parents to communicate better and work on a new type of relationship focused on their children’s needs.

Of course there is already a lot of information out there, but this new network has been designed as a starting place to find support and trusted information on a range of issues that worry separating parents.  These could be legal issues and sorting out money but could also be the emotional issues that make communicating about the practical things so difficult.

The first development is a new web app, called Sorting out Separation; this helps parents to understand what particular issues you might need to sort out and provides a signposting service towards expert organisations that can help you through the separation process.

The new web application is easy to find as it is available on many of the websites that separating and single parents already use, including the Child Maintenance Options website (

The Child Maintenance Service

The Government is also making big changes to the child maintenance system. These are aimed at giving separated parents better all round support, helping you and your ex-partner work together to sort out maintenance payments yourself. This new system encourages what is called a ‘family based arrangement’. This is where you and your ex-partner decide together what and how much will be paid, rather than involving external agencies such as Child Support Agency (CSA) or the courts.

But if you can’t agree on an arrangement, the Government is introducing a new statutory scheme (called the Child Maintenance Service). This will eventually replace the old (and sometimes rather ineffective) schemes that are run by the CSA which in the past parents have often found difficult to use.

The new Child Maintenance Service aims to

  • Reviewed cases every year to make sure that the right amount of maintenance is being paid 
  • Calculate the right amount of child maintenance using an improved framework
  • Be more efficient in managing individual cases online
  • Introduce a better way of dealing with any arrears

These are big changes so of course this new service won’t happen overnight; it will be phased in gradually. To begin with only those couples with four children or more of the same parents will be able to apply to the new service; for other parents the Child Support Agency will remain the place to go. But over time the Child Maintenance Service will be available to all separating parents.

While these changes are being introduced any separating parents who are working out child maintenance arrangements should contact Child Maintenance Options to begin with.

Child Maintenance Options

The Child Maintenance Options service CMEC is a free, impartial service that can offer support and advice on how to make decisions about child maintenance payments.  The service

  • helps parents decide on the best child maintenance option for them
  • Provides support on how to set up a family-based arrangement
  • Guides parents who can’t agree a family-based arrangement to whichever of the Child Maintenance Service or Child Support Agency is available for them

The service is confidential and won’t pass on any information unless as a parent you particularly request information be shared.

The Child Maintenance Options Service can be contacted on:

0800 988 0988

Lines are open:

8am to 8pm Monday to Friday

9am to 4pm Saturday

There is also a website with useful tools and information at

Other changes

There are more changes on the way to support separating and separated parents. These are  planned to take place over the next few years. These include:

  • Telephone advice and face-to-face support that can be used alongside the help provided online by the Sorting out Separation app.
  •  In the longer term a new charging system for using the Child Maintenance Service is being proposed. (There will be no charge for victims of domestic violence or parents aged 18 or under).  
  • Closing existing CSA cases. Parents will then be able to choose, with support from Child Maintenance Options, whether to make a family-based arrangement or to apply to the Child Maintenance Service. 



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