Maintenance payments for children, spouses and unmarried parents are treated very differently and should not be confused.
Child maintenance is normally handled by the Child Maintenance Service (previously the Child Support Agency). The non-resident parent will be expected to pay a certain proportion of his or her weekly income to the parent that the children normally live with. For more information, please visit the Child Maintenance Service website and the online calculator: www.gov.uk/child-maintenance. If the non-resident parent has a high income then a top-up on the Child Maintenance Service figure may be applied for in the family court.
Maintenance for wives and husbands (spousal maintenance) is dealt with as part of the wider financial settlement in divorce. The family court will try and achieve a clean break with no spousal maintenance being paid at all however, where this would not achieve a fair outcome it will make what is known as an order for periodical payments. Some orders are made with a defined termination date, others are made for what is known as “joint lives.” An order for periodical payments can be varied upwards or downwards in the future if circumstances change.
Maintenance for unmarried parents in separation (usually mothers) is paid to them on behalf of the children. They have no free standing right to maintenance independent of their children and so when the children reach the age of 18 the rights generally fall away. Child maintenance is dealt with through the Child Maintenance Service as above (unless a top-up is applied through the family court).