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In Great Britain, parents are legally responsible for maintaining their child, even if they do not live with them or have no contact with the child.

Parents can agree a private child maintenance arrangement themselves. If they cannot reach an agreement, child maintenance can be arranged through the government’s statutory Child Maintenance Service (CMS).

This briefing looks at how the CMS works for parents who have experienced domestic abuse and what changes have been introduced with the Child Support (Domestic Abuse) Act 2023.

It covers the situation in Great Britain, as primary child maintenance legislation is a reserved matter for Wales and Scotland, but it is devolved for Northern Ireland.

The Child Maintenance Service and cases involving domestic abuse

The CMS can:

  • Calculate the amount of child maintenance that should be paid;
  • Locate the other parent if their location is unknown;
  • Arrange the child maintenance payments; and
  • Take enforcement action if the non-resident parent doesnt pay.

When making a child maintenance application, either parent can contact the ‘get help arranging child maintenance’ service, for impartial advice on arranging child maintenance. The parent should inform the service if they and/or the child are victims of domestic abuse, so they are provided with the right information.

CMS staff should use the CMS Domestic Abuse Plan to guide them through actions to support victims (eg, signposting to relevant services).

Are domestic abuse victims exempt from fees?

Before 26 February 2024, individuals had to pay a £20 fee for applying to the CMS to calculate child maintenance. This fee was not charged if a person is a victim of domestic abuse or violence. From 26 February 2024, there is no longer a £20 application fee for any persons applying to the CMS.

Over half (56%) of new applicants to the CMs were exempt from the application fee in October to December 2023. Almost all exemptions (98%) were due to domestic abuse.

The £20 application fee was the only CMS fee an applicant can be exempt from. The only other fee is the collection fee when people are using the collect and pay service (where the CMS collects and passes on payments). This is opposed to the direct pay service, where the CMS calculates the rate at which maintenance should be paid, but payments are made between parents.

Reports into Child Maintenance Service’s support

In autumn 2021, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) commissioned an independent review of ways in which the Child Maintenance Service supports survivors of domestic abuse. The Review completed in April 2022, and the Government published its response in January 2023. It accepted eight of the ten recommendations made.

In June 2022, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) published a report in the Child Maintenance Service. The Committee concluded that, while “the CMS may be the safest and only way” for victims and survivors of domestic abuse to secure maintenance from their ex-partner, the system “is not designed to protect” them.

PAC also noted evidence from stakeholders suggested the CMS was lacking in “awareness, understanding and responsiveness”.

In its evidence to the report, the DWP acknowledged it does not have information to suggest if domestic abuse or coercive control are factors in a person’s decision to not use or stop using the CMS.

Child Support (Domestic Abuse) Act 2023

The Child Support Collection (Domestic Abuse) Act 2023 received Royal Assent on 29 June 2023.

The Act amends existing legislation to allow a child maintenance case to be placed onto the collect and pay service (where the CMS collects and passes on payments) if the case involves domestic abuse and one of the parents requests it. The collect and pay service is where the CMS collects and passes on maintenance payments.

Act received cross-party support from the Government and Labour, and will apply to the whole of the UK. The main body of the Act will come into force with regulations set out by the Secretary of State. In September 2023, the Government said it would engage with government departments and stakeholders when it introduces secondary legisaltion.

Northern Ireland 

For information on how the Child Maintenance Service in Northern Ireland (NI) can support victims of domestic abuse, see the NI Direct webpage, CMS support in domestic abuse or violence.

Further reading

The GOV.UK webpage, Report domestic abuse, lists organisations who can provide help and support about domestic abuse.

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