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The Child Maintenance Service (CMS): Strengthening Family Foundations and Reducing Child Poverty

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS), managed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), represents a cornerstone of the UK's approach to ensuring that children receive financial support following parental separation. Established to replace earlier systems plagued by inefficiencies, the CMS has been pivotal in its mission but continues to face significant challenges that impact its effectiveness and the welfare of many children.

Evaluating the CMS: Successes and Ongoing Challenges

The CMS provides two key services: Direct Pay and Collect & Pay. These services are designed to accommodate different needs, with Direct Pay allowing parents to manage payments directly once amounts are calculated by the CMS, and Collect & Pay stepping in to handle the transfer of payments when compliance is in doubt. Despite these options, compliance remains a critical issue. Recent figures indicate that unpaid maintenance has accumulated to over £614.3 million since the system's inception, underlining persistent enforcement challenges.

The Direct Impact of CMS on Child Poverty

Child poverty is a pressing issue in the UK, particularly within single-parent households, where financial stability can often hinge on receiving regular maintenance payments. An effective CMS is crucial for these families. Research suggests that proper maintenance arrangements through the CMS could lift 60% of children out of poverty in situations where no arrangements currently exist. This highlights the potential of the CMS to act as a vital support system for vulnerable families, provided it can overcome its operational challenges.

Systemic Issues and the Need for Effective Solutions

One of the primary obstacles to the success of the CMS is the low uptake of its services. Although designed to cover a broad spectrum of separated families, only a small percentage utilize the system fully, with many either unaware of the services available or deterred by the complexity and perceived inefficiencies of the process. Additionally, the system's current inability to effectively manage and enforce payment collections contributes to an environment where child poverty persists despite available resources.

Strengthening CMS Through Family Mediation

In the face of these challenges, family mediation services provided by organizations like the Family Mediation Trust become indispensable. Mediation offers a proactive approach to resolving maintenance disputes outside the traditional bureaucratic framework of the CMS, presenting several advantages:

  • Improved Communication: Mediation encourages better communication and understanding between parents, which can lead to more effective and mutually agreeable maintenance arrangements.
  • Personalized Solutions: Unlike the more rigid structures of the CMS, mediation allows for solutions that are tailored to the unique circumstances of each family, considering the emotional and psychological well-being of children.
  • Reduction in Conflict: By facilitating cooperation, mediation can significantly reduce the level of conflict, leading to better outcomes for children and less stress for parents.
  • Efficiency and Effectiveness: Mediation can resolve issues more quickly than the traditional CMS process, reducing the time children and families have to wait for essential financial support.

The Role of Mediation in Enhancing CMS Effectiveness

Family mediation does not just complement the CMS; it enhances its effectiveness. By resolving conflicts and establishing clear, workable maintenance agreements through mediation, the pressure on the CMS to enforce agreements can be alleviated. This allows the CMS to focus its resources on the most challenging cases where additional legal intervention is necessary.


The Child Maintenance Service plays a critical role in mitigating child poverty by ensuring financial support for children from separated families. However, its full potential is often unrealized due to systemic issues and challenges in enforcement. Family mediation emerges as a crucial service that not only supports the CMS by reducing its caseload but also fosters a collaborative approach to family conflict resolution. As we continue to refine these systems and services, the ultimate goal remains clear: to ensure every child receives the support they need to thrive in a stable and nurturing environment. 

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