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The 2012 Child Maintenance Scheme - grounds for a variation

If you’re the parent paying maintenance under the 2012 Child Maintenance Scheme and you have certain expenses, you may be able to ask the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) to adjust the amount of maintenance you should pay.

If you’re a parent getting maintenance and are aware that the other parent has taxable income that wasn’t included in the maintenance calculation, you may be able to ask the Child Maintenance Service to adjust the amount of maintenance you get.

This is called applying for a variation. You can apply for a variation at any time. However, you can only apply on certain grounds. This page tells you more about what they are.

In Northern Ireland, you can arrange maintenance through the Northern Ireland Child Maintenance Service.

If you want more information about the different ways you can arrange child maintenance, go to Child Maintenance Choices at www.nidirect.gov.uk.

Therefore, when the page refers to the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), in Northern Ireland this means the Northern Ireland Child Maintenance Service. When the page refers to Child Maintenance Options, in Northern Ireland this means Child Maintenance Choices.

If you’re the parent paying maintenance

If you’re the parent paying maintenance, and you have to pay any of the following costs or expenses, you may be entitled to apply for a variation. If your application is accepted, the CMS will make a new maintenance calculation, based on your gross income, less these expenses. This type of variation is known as a Special Expenses variation and covers the following expenses:

The costs of keeping in touch with your children

These are also known as contact costs. They cover the expenses you must pay to keep in touch with the children you’re paying maintenance for, called qualifying children. Contact costs are also allowed for other children you’re financially responsible for, called relevant other children.

Contact costs are counted even if you pay less maintenance because you have shared care of the qualifying child. These costs can include fuel, train or bus fares and overnight accommodation if a return journey in the same day isn’t practical.

Additional costs of looking after a sick or disabled child

If a child you’re financially responsible for becomes sick or disabled and you face extra expenses because of this, you can ask for a variation. The costs you can claim for can include personal care, attendance, extra heating and clothing.

Prior debts

If you’re legally liable to repay certain debts that were run up before you and your partner separated, you can ask for a variation. This could be, for example, a loan taken out for home improvements. They are also called prior debts. You can’t ask for a variation for debts such as credit cards or arrears of fines.

Boarding school fees

You may be able to claim expenses if you pay towards the boarding school fees for the children you’re paying maintenance for.

Some mortgages, loans and insurance policies

You may be able to claim expenses if you pay a mortgage, loan or insurance policy on the home where your ex-partner and the children are living. However, you must have no legal share in the property.

Minimum limits you can claim for

If the costs you have to pay are less than £10 a week, you can’t ask for a variation.

If the costs are £10 a week or more, the whole amount can be taken into account.

The £10 limit doesn’t apply to the costs of a child with a long-term illness or a disability.

There are strict rules about these expenses and not all of them will be taken into account. In all cases, the CMS will decide whether the expenses being claimed are reasonable. They may limit the amount which is deducted from your gross income or decide that no deduction should be made.

If you’re the parent getting maintenance

You can apply for a variation if you think the parent paying maintenance has other taxable income that wasn’t taken into account in the maintenance calculation. If the CMS can identify this extra income, it will be added to the other parent’s gross income and used to make a new calculation.

If the parent paying maintenance has reported the other income to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), the CMS will be able to get this information and usually won’t rely on you to give them the financial details.

However, if HMRC don’t hold any information about this income, you may have to provide further detailed information to enable the CMS to look at your application.

This type of variation is known as an Additional Income variation and covers:

  • unearned income
  • earned income
  • getting rid of income, known as diversion of income.

Unearned income

This may be taxable income from any of the following sources:

  • property, for example, rental income
  • savings and investments
  • miscellaneous income, such as casual earnings from one-off jobs, or late payments received for a business that is no longer active.

Earned income

This means the parent paying maintenance is paying maintenance at the flat or nil rate but has a gross weekly income of £100 or more from employment, self-employment or a pension.

Diversion of income

This means the parent paying maintenance may be controlling the amount of income they receive by:

  • giving it to someone else. This could be, for example, a partner, but they still benefit from the income
  • diverting the income so it can’t be included in the maintenance calculation. For example, if they keep profits within a company rather than taking a wage, or they get a benefit such as a company car instead of part of their salary
  • making excessive pension contributions. What will count as excessive payments could depend on your individual circumstances.

Next steps

Citizens Advice

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