The new Child Maintenance Service (CMS) opened last week to new applicants with two or more children. The new service calculates and arranges financial support for children living in separated families. It is intended that it will gradually replace the Child Support Agency.

An application fee of £20 will apply, unless the person applying for maintenance is under the age of 18, or is the victim of domestic violence.

In the event that the CMS is required to collect maintenance, additional charges will apply. These charges can be avoided if payments are made directly to the person receiving maintenance via the CMS. This is intended to encourage arrangements for maintenance to be agreed. If payments stop, the CMS can step in and enforce payment.

All calculations are to be based on gross income and financial information obtained from Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs.

A maintenance calculation can only be reassessed annually under the new scheme. Exceptions to this rule are where the income variation is 25% or more, or in cases involving long term illness or redundancy.

Under the new scheme, a child in full time education will be eligible for child maintenance up to the age of 20. Under the old scheme, the maximum age was 19, so this is a welcome change.

The CMS will use new enforcement fines to encourage those liable for child maintenance, to pay what they owe.

The service can be used not only by either parent, but also grandparents or guardians of the child. It includes children living in Scotland.

You cannot apply if the person receiving child maintenance, or the child, lives outside the UK.