The Helpful Guide: When does child maintenance end or stop?

when does child maintenance end after 18

When does child maintenance end? When do maintenance payments and child benefit benefits stop? Do students still receive maintenance?

You’d think these would be simple questions. But there isn’t a simple answer on the UK government website or the CMS website and I’ve spent months trying to find information that’s reliable and clear.

Well, friends, I’ve spent an hour on hold waiting to speak to the Child Maintenance Service this morning. Finally, I have a definitive answer about when child maintenance ends and when/how payments stop. Hopefully this will you save that time!  And maybe make your co-parenting just a bit less tense!

When does child maintenance end?

If you are receiving child maintenance payments or making them, then the rule of thumb is that benefit payments finish when a child finishes full-time education, providing their education is no higher than A-Levels or their equivalent.

In most cases, that means maintenance payments stop at 16 or 18. But some young people will need to resit exams, so the question of when child maintenance ends is a little different here. The law allows for maintenance to be paid up to a young person’s 20th birthday providing they are still in that level of full-time education.

Child benefit payments will stop at the same time as maintenance.

Does child maintenance end if a child leaves school?

If your child is turning 16 and you’re wondering if maintenance payments stop when they are 16th… well, maybe.

If a child leaves school at 16 and goes into employment or an apprenticeship that includes LESS than 12 hours a week of supervised training/education (on average) then maintenance payments will stop the month that they start this training or employment, OR on their 16th birthday (whichever is later).

This means a young person starting an apprenticeship with one day at college is not entitled to child maintenance. A child starting a full-time job at 16 is not entitled to maintenance. Providing your child is still doing 12 hours of more of supervised study or course work each week then they are still entitled to maintenance.

Do you get maintenance if children are at college?

Most young people don’t leave school at 16, and will continue with some form of non-advanced education such as A-Levels, T-Levels, BTECs or apprenticeships where young people attend college for several days each week.

In this case, the child is entitled to maintenance throughout their course. This applies to what the government calls ‘non-advanced’ courses, which includes anything up to and including A-Levels.

There are three possible points where maintenance paid to students comes to an end:

  • The child finishes their non-advanced course and moves on to an advanced course like a degree at university or higher education. Maintenance payments stop the month that your child finishes their non-advanced course or leaves school.
  • The child finishes their course and moves into employment. Again, maintenance payments will end the month that the child finishes their course.

Remember, if your young person needs to resit some of their exams after turning 16, maintenance is due during these ‘extra’ years, until they have completed their course OR until their 20th birthday (whichever comes first).

How does maintenance stop?

The question of how maintenance payments are stopped depends on whether you pay or receive maintenance through the CMS, or whether it’s paid directly from one parent to the other.

Payments via CMS 

If your child maintenance is paid through the CMS, then you don’t need to do anything for child maintenance to end. As children turn 16, the Child Benefit agency will contact you to confirm that your child is remaining in non-advanced education. The same thing happens at 18.

The Child Benefit agency tells the CMS the results of this question, and the CMS will cancel the case for that child, when it determines no further payments are due.

You don’t need to call CMS or do anything yourself. If you would like to then you can log onto CMS and inform them of a child leaving education at another point in time. But in the vast majority of cases, this isn’t needed.

maintenance for teens

Should Parents Pay Maintenance Past 18?

Morally? Of course, parents should continue to support their children for as long as their children need support, and as long as parents are in a position to provide it. By “need” support I’m talking of children who are not in a position to support themselves – like being at uni, or having ongoing health conditions that prevent them working. I don’t plan to still be paying for my teen’s groceries when she’s 25!

In some divorces, you may agree a court order that specifies child support will be paid until the end of full-time education but otherwise, the legal obligation to pay maintenance ends as your child leaves Tier 2 education, as explained above.

Personally, I think there’s something horrible about online forums where (mostly) men are counting down the days until they are “free” of the burden of maintenance for their children.

I get it – it’s not easy to hand over money to an ex when your relationship with them might be toxic or marred by complicated feelings. And I know plenty of (again, primarily) men feel their exes are somehow “fleecing” them because they are legally obliged to pay a set percentage of their earnings to a first family, while often trying to support a second. That’s hard.

But here’s what I believe:

Raising children doesn’t magically cost zero because they’re 16 or 18 and if you’re any sort of a human and a mother/father then you will continue your child for as long as they need that support and you’re able to provide it.

I’m lucky that after some early conflict, my ex understood that maintenance wasn’t set by me, and wasn’t means-tested. The CMS told me what he should pay, and I expected him to pay it. And – to his credit – he always has done.

All I can tell you is that your kids see everything. And as they grow up, they see us parents for who we are – flaws and all. I’m happy my daughter saw that her Dad was not only required to support her; he was determined to do so. Even when our co-parenting relationship was TERRIBLE, or THEIR relationship was rocky, one thing was sure. He continued to provide regular support so she could have what she needed.

apologise friends

Organising maintenance after the age of 18

When your child goes off to uni, there is no legal obligation to continue to pay child maintenance because this is not non-advanced education. Therefore, any agreement made through CMS to pay maintenance will come to an end. 

The maximum student loan for living costs is around £9,000 a year outside London. That’s just about enough to cover student accommodation for a year at some universities. Your child will still need to pay for books and food and bus passes and potentially bills such as TV license and utilities. 

My ex initially suggested paying ongoing maintenance direct to our daughter. But given she’s home from university for half of the year (and thus my expenses go up) I didn’t think that made sense.

When my teen is home, my food bill more than doubles, and I dread to think about the utility bill from all those showers, and loads of washing. Here’s what works for us:

  • Each term, he pays half of her weekly allowance and half of her rent into her bank account (I pay the same). This equates to around 40% of what he would have paid in maintenance when she lived at home.
  • Every month he pays me around 40% of the old maintenance payment, which is used for household expenses. This means for the 30 weeks of the year Flea lives with me, he has contributed towards mortgage, food, clothes and other expenses.

The net result is that he pays a little less than he used to pay in maintenance, but our daughter has all her needs met, and I have regular support with the household bills (because I can’t sell and downsize my house or car while she’s still living with me for half the year).

I hope this quick guide to when and how child maintenance ends is helpful if you have a teenager who is approaching an age of leaving school. It can be a worry if you aren’t sure when maintenance payments stop. The good news is there’s very little for you to do, and the process should just work itself out. But if not, then you do know when maintenance payments should stop, and you can make arrangements yourself if needed.

13 thoughts on “The Helpful Guide: When does child maintenance end or stop?”

  1. Molly | Transatlantic Notes

    I’m sure a lot of UK parents will find this useful as navigating any kind of information about this subject is probably quite difficult. There is always a lot to consider so this breaks it down nicely (sharing with my friends back in Britain who this would apply to). Thanks for sharing!

    1. I cannot wait till my payments stop. I pray more women in future walk in mens and experience our pain. At present the only women whom may get it are women with male grown sons, due to them not seeing their grand children.

      1. You can’t wait until you stop supporting your child? That’s a bold statement.

        Do you want your child at 21 to say, “My Dad was always 100% there for me, and he made it civil with my Mum even though she made it really difficult sometimes, so that I had everything I needed and never had to worry.”

        Or do you want them to say, “My Dad hated my Mum so much he gave us the bare minimum and stopped paying to support me the first chance he got”?

        I bet it’s the former.

      2. You are missing the point , most men want it to stop so the money stops going to the parent direct, this will allow dads to support their child instead of paying the mum to use as she pleases which normally excludes the child

        1. I’ll explain it to you as best as I can. If your child’s mother is using maintenance to have her nails done, it’s because she’s already spent HER money giving your child everything they need.

      3. I agree. Many women and certainly my ex have more than enough money to support the children, whereby I am subjected to the one-sided practices of the CMS, who continue to prey upon men and put them through an extremely stressful and somewhat frustrating 18 years where they watch them blow the money on holidays and shopping. Granted I should pay for my kids and have done, but the CMS are completely useless and have caused and been the cause of the suicides of many good fathers thanks to their heavy handed tactics. The system is wrong and unfair. say what you like women but its all bollocks and you know it.

        1. It’s not a great organisation but wouldn’t it be even more wonderful if, as a culture, it wasn’t needed? IF more men (and women, but it’s mostly men) who didn’t live with their children stepped up and said, “I will happily provide 15% of my income to help with the expenses of providing a great home for my child, and so long as my child has all they need, that’s all I need to know”?

          Ultimately, the law requires non-resident parents to pay X% of their income to support a child, regardless of the resident parent’s “need” for that money. It doesn’t matter if you paying maintenance means the other parent has more disposable income to spend on other things (unless the resident parent isn’t providing a warm, safe, loving home with food, clothes and education, in which case that’s a different matter). Like I said, if she’s using maintenance to buy a new TV it’s because she already used her own money to buy things your child needs like electricity and a mortgage and a car, and food in the house.

          And say what you like but I think parents who count down the days to the moment they can stop supporting their kids are gross.

  2. Dad with daughter

    Hello. Thank you for this article, but I’m hoping you can help clarify something for me. (I’m dislxic and I may have misunderstood).

    I’m a father to a daughter in college. She will be twenty soon (early in 2024) and her college course should run until August 2024. She doesn’t really want to go to university because she has problems reading and understanding things (it’s my fault as she inherited that from me). And I’ve spent most of today trying to talk her into applying as it’ll offer her a greater choice in the future.

    My question to you is, When do I (as the father) stop playing child maintenance to my ex? Is it on the 20th birthday or when she finished college?

    I ask because the child support doesn’t always find it’s way to where it should be spent. When my daughter started college I set up a bank account with a couple of thousand pounds (it was all the savings over ten years) that my daughter had kept secret for clothes and food at college. (I did the same for my son when he left school but his mother spent it all very quickly).
    And the plan is to stop paying child support and pay it into the bank account for university – but I can’t afford to pay both. But my daughter doesn’t know when child support stops officially (she asked at college and all they said was it’s st 16) and looking online is very confusing.

    Basically, we’re looking to cut out the middle man and set up a direct debit into a bank account instead.
    Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you

    1. It would depend on what she is studying at college. As a parent, you are legally required to pay maintenance for a child until they finish Level 2 qualifications – this might be A-Levels, T-Levels or a Level 2/3 B-Tec.

      If your payments are set by the CSA, wouldn’t worry too much because it’s automatic – your daughter’s Mum will stop receiving child benefit when she leaves second tier education and this will prompt a notification to the CSA that maintenance should also stop. If your payments aren’t set by the CSA, then you should continue paying until your child has finished A-Levels (or the equivalent)

  3. I am a mother whose abusive husband used our child as a weapon to extract Child Maintenance from me. It’s not just ‘feckless dads’ that suffer it’s good dads and mothers also.

    The CMS don’t ask for proof that the child is still in education. They just check if the parent receives child benefit. What if they keep claiming child benefit wrongfully??? The CMS doesn’t investigate. How do I know if my child is still in education if the other parent refuses to tell me?

    1. I believe from my own experience that child benefit is paid automatically until a child turns 16 and finishes secondary education.

      After that, you’re sent a form to complete to confirm the child is still in education and where, and if they are, child benefit continues and so does maintenance. In the UK the vast majority of young people will be in some sort of 16-18 education and child benefit still applies as does maintenance unless they’re doing less than 12 hours a week. If the child was in that situation or was working, HMRC would notify Child Benefit and it would stop, which would also mean CMS would stop maintenance.

  4. I was quite disappointed to finish reading your article, given that it started out quite well-balanced and researched (props to you for persevering on hold to the CMS – the general incompetence of that organisation is staggering).

    However the moral vitriol you spouted halfway through was enough to make me want to renounce myself as a woman, let alone one that has faithfully cooked, cleaned and supported two stepchildren and watched on helplessly as their mother has attempted to decimate the relationship they have with their father (my husband).

    Your comments are very clearly influenced by what you perceive to be a black and white situation, which life never is – and to tar all men with the same brush by suggesting that they are all in some way shirking their responsibilities by not stumping up financially (especially post 18) stuns me.

    It appears that according to your world view, parents who continue to get rinsed by their exes and bankrupted in the process are honourable and worthy. But yet you conveniently ignore parents that have been victims of manipulative, toxic relationships and/or subjected to parental alienation and feel (quite rightly) glad to see the back of maintenance payments that only seem to line the pockets of said toxic exes with no evidence that the money is being used for the kids.

    How is it right that you should vilify these poor sods (male or female) unchallenged? How is it right that your very one-dimensional small minded opinion should speak for the rest of us? I for one completely disagree with your comments regarding where/how the money is spent.

    Child maintenance money should be spent on the children (and yes, proportionately on bills, toys, holidays, etc). But if the receiving party wants their nails done or any other relative luxuries then why on earth don’t they take responsibility for their own finances and get a job to pay for those things, or (shock horror) go without, instead of continuing to rely on/expecting someone else to pay?

    I can tell you that it isn’t because she’s used all her money providing for her kids, because at every interval it’s been demonstrated in our experience that she has hoarded money to spend on luxury holidays for herself and never taken her own babies anywhere or even paid for holiday camps, or when she buys herself top dollar clothes and her own little ones arrive looking like they’ve been dressed at a jumble sale in clothes that are two sizes too small. It is telling that you have only considered this from a female perspective, and a rather righteous and self-satisfied one at that. How lovely that you and your ex have got such an amicable arrangement that you’re happy with – I wonder if he would agree on the balance of terms?

    1. LOL – I think you should probably read the article again, when you’re feeling calmer.

      My view is that I’m a parent for life. Her Dad and I support our child emotionally, practically and – while she’s in full-time education – financially.

      If your child is approaching the age of 18 and you’re publicly counting down the days to escaping the *bare minimum* legal responsibility to your child, then I personally think that’s really, really sad. Even if you feel that way, posting it online where your child can see it? Is toxic. And the forums I see on this topic are full of mostly men. (not all men, read it again if you’re confused). I have yet to see a SINGLE woman posting that type of content.

      Every situation is of course different. And there absolutely are people who have really toxic relationships with their exes (see a previous post I wrote about the CMS and how appalling their system is in forcing people to have contact with potentially abusive former partners) and maintenance or parental alienation is a real thing. But i also think that your relationship with your child’s other parent and even your relationship to your child is separate from your responsibility to support that child.

      My daughter’s Dad has always paid maintenance and to his absolute credit he has always paid maintenance and once he got around the initial frustration, he has never complained and in fact he insists on continuing to support her while she’s in higher education. And importantly our daughter knows that and respects her Dad for prioritising her and her needs and her happiness, always.

      The question of “maintenance should go on the kids” is just not as black and white as you present it. It is impossible as a resident parent to say, “I’m only using the maintenance to pay the children’s share of the hot water, and the children’s share of the pasta, and then clothes and toys.”

      It’s all household income – just as it would be if the parents were in the same household. For a non-resident parent, I personally would say that the only question worth asking is, “Are my children safe, warm and loved? Do they have good food, good education and clothes to wear?”

      If the answer is yes, then what happens to maintenance money is irrelevant. Remember that your husband’s ex doesn’t set the maintenance amounts – they’re calculated by the CMS. If your OH thinks it’s too much because he can’t afford it without going bankrupt then blame the CMS for that situation, not the mother of his children. She might be toxic and hostile, but by matching that energy, I think the only people who really lose are you (spending so much time and energy on hating someone who didn’t make the rules) and the kids (seeing their parents hate each other)

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