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In the United Kingdom, a parent is legally responsible for maintaining their child, even if they do not live with the other parent or have no contact with the child. Child maintenance covers how a child’s living costs will be paid when one of the parents does not live with the child.

The parent who pays child maintenance is known as the ‘non-resident parent’ or the ‘paying parent’. The person who receives child maintenance is known as the person with care. The person with care does not have to be a parent of the child, however if they are, they can be referred to as the ‘parent with care’ or the ‘receiving parent’. In Scotland, a child aged 12 to 19 who is in full-time, non-advanced education or training can also apply for child maintenance.

This briefing sets out how the child maintenance system operates where a person with care, non-resident parent or qualifying child lives overseas. This includes how overseas income and occupations are treated under the 2012 child maintenance scheme, and how maintenance arrangements can be recognised across certain countries.

The briefing primarily relates to Great Britain; information on Northern Ireland’s similar, but separate, statutory child maintenance system is provided in section 6.

When can the Child Maintenance Service make a calculation?

Parents can agree a private child maintenance arrangement themselves (a family-based arrangement). If they cannot reach an agreement, child maintenance can be arranged through the government’s statutory Child Maintenance Service (CMS) in Great Britain. Northern Ireland has a separate, statutory child maintenance system.

The CMS can make a child support calculation if all parties in a child maintenance calculation (the non-resident parent, the person with care and the qualifying child) are habitually resident in the UK, unless an exception applies.

The Child Poverty Action Group’s (CPAG) Child Support Handbook 2022/23 explains a person is habitually resident if they are “ordinarily resident in the UK and have been for an appreciable period of time.”

How does the CMS treat overseas income?

The CMS is able to include income a parent is receiving from overseas, if it falls into the categories of taxable income from employment, self-employment or pensions. However, CPAG notes the rules on how overseas income is taxed in the UK and taken account of in child maintenance calculations are “complex”.

What if a person in a calculation lives overseas?

The CMS must cancel a child maintenance calculation if the non-resident parent, person with care or qualifying child is no longer habitually resident in the UK. If this happens, the courts may make, vary or revive a maintenance order. A maintenance order is when the person with the higher income is told by a court to make regular maintenance payments to help with the other person’s living costs.

The process can differ if the country the person lives in is has a Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Order (REMO) agreement with the UK. The UK has REMO agreements with a number of other countries and courts in ‘REMO countries’ can enforce child maintenance decisions made by UK courts.

An individual considering legal action abroad should seek legal advice from a solicitor in that country. The UK Government maintains a list of lawyers abroad.

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