Personal Law
August 24, 2021

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

Under a child maintenance arrangement, child maintenance is usually paid by the parent who does not have day-to-day care of the child or does not usually live with the child. If this payment is not forthcoming, the receiving parent could launch a civil legal claim. However, this option is expensive and still leaves the issue of ensuring the paying parent complies with the judgment. Instead, where possible, you, as 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 the the bailiffs 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 to apply them against the outstanding debt

• 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?

When the CMS will act will depend on whether you reached a private child maintenance agreement or if your agreement was arranged through the CMS.

If you reached a private or ‘family-based’ agreement

If a private arrangement for child maintenance has broken down due to non-payment, the CMS can step in to collect ongoing child maintenance. This is provided the arrangement was made legally binding via a consent order at least 12 months previously (because the CMS are excluded from dealing with such matters until the Court Order requiring child maintenance to be paid, is at least one year old). The CMS cannot recoup any arrears the paying parent already owes, though you could approach the court to enforce the consent order and recover the debt.

If you arranged child maintenance through the CMS

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

If the paying parent has agreed to pay you directly, known as ‘Direct Pay’, the CMS will need to be informed of non-payment before they 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% 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% (or lower) furlough payment, they will be expected to pay maintenance in full. The CMS will implement enforcement measures if payment is not forthcoming. Of course this scheme is now being wound up and will cease on 30th September 2021.

Need to talk to us?

Our friendly family team are here to discuss child maintenance issues or assist with any other family legal matter which you may be facing. Please get in touch on 01892 526344 or email

For further information on all our Family Law services, please click here.

Fixed Fee Appointments - £100 + VAT

We offer an initial one hour fixed fee appointment with one of our friendly family solicitors for £100 + VAT. This gives you the opportunity to talk your matter through with a solicitor, get their advice and then consider your options before deciding how to progress your legal matter. Please get in touch if you feel this type of appointment would be beneficial.

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.

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