Non-payment of child maintenance: What happens if a parent doesn’t pay?

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Under a child maintenance arrangement, payments are usually made by the parent who does not have day-to-day care of the child or does not usually live with them. If this payment is not forthcoming, the receiving parent could bring a civil legal claim. However, this option is expensive and is still reliant upon the paying parent complying with the judgment. Instead, where possible, the receiving parent can approach the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) which has wide-ranging powers of enforcement.

What measures can the CMS take if a parent fails to pay?

The CMS can secure payment using a range of powers, including:

  • Ordering the paying parent’s employer to make a deduction from their wages or pension
  • Instructing the paying parent’s bank or building society to take regular payments or a lump sum from their account
  • Taking the paying parent to Court to recover arrears via a liability order

What is a liability order?

A liability order allows the CMS to take legal action against the paying parent to recover the debt. They could:

  • Negotiate payment using bailiffs or ask them to seize and sell the paying parent’s belongings
  • Use an ‘order for sale’ to sell the paying parent’s assets or property and take the proceeds
  • Place the paying parent’s debt on the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines, which will hinder them from getting a mortgage, credit card or loan
  • Revoke the paying parent’s passport or driving licence, or prevent them from getting one
  • Send the paying parent to prison

When will the CMS act?

The timing of any CMS action will depend on whether a private child maintenance agreement was reached or if an agreement was arranged through the CMS.

If a private arrangement for child maintenance has broken down due to non-payment, the CMS can step in to collect ongoing child maintenance, provided that the arrangement was made legally binding via a consent order at least 12 months prior. The CMS cannot recoup any arrears already owed by the paying parent, although the Court could be approached to enforce the consent order and recover the debt.

If the CMS collects maintenance from the paying parent for the receiving payment through ‘Collect and Pay’, they will know if payments have been missed. After attempting to agree on a repayment schedule with the paying parent, it will use the enforcement measures outlined above to secure the arrears.

If the paying parent has agreed to pay the receiving payment directly, known as ‘Direct Pay’, the CMS will need to be informed of non-payment before it can take action.

Has COVID-19 affected how the CMS approaches non-payment?

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many parents’ ability to pay child maintenance. If a paying parent claims to be unable to pay due to an income reduction, the CMS may reassess their liability. In cases where the parent’s income has been reduced by 25% or more due to COVID-19, the CMS will make adjustments to maintenance calculations.

What happens if the paying parent is furloughed?

If a paying parent is in receipt of the 80% furlough payment, they will be expected to pay maintenance in full. The CMS will implement enforcement measures if payment is not forthcoming.