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This advice applies to Northern Ireland. Change country

Child maintenance - what to do if you're owed maintenance

Both parents are legally responsible for the financial costs of bringing up their children. If you split up, usually the parent who doesn't have day-to-day care of the children is responsible for paying maintenance.

If the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) arranged maintenance under the 1993, 2003 or 2012 Child Maintenance Schemes, and the parent who should be paying maintenance doesn’t pay, the CSA or CMS can take enforcement action against them to try and make them pay what they owe you.

This page tells you what you can do if you should be getting maintenance if the parent who should pay maintenance is late with payments or doesn’t pay at all.

In Northern Ireland, you can arrange maintenance through the Northern Ireland Child Maintenance Service.

If you want more information about the different ways you can arrange child maintenance, go to Child Maintenance Choices at www.nidirect.gov.uk.

Therefore, when the page refers to the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), in Northern Ireland this means the Northern Ireland Child Maintenance Service. When the page refers to Child Maintenance Options, in Northern Ireland this means Child Maintenance Choices.

If you have a family-based arrangement

If you have a family-based arrangement and the other parent fails to pay the amount you've agreed, the CMS won't be able to help you get the money you're owed. You'll need to try and sort out the problem with the other parent directly.

If a family-based arrangement breaks down, you can ask the CMS to arrange maintenance instead. When you apply, tell the CMS that the arrangement has broken down because the other parent failed to pay maintenance. They may decide to use the Collect and Pay service so that the parent pays maintenance directly to the CMS, who then pass it on to you.

The new CMS calculation won't make the parent pay any outstanding arrears from the family-based arrangement.

If your maintenance is paid through Direct Pay

If you're using the Direct Pay scheme and the other parent doesn’t pay in full and on time, you should first try to negotiate with them directly to try and sort out the problem.

If this doesn't work, tell the CSA or CMS about the arrears as soon as possible. You can phone the CSA or CMS but make sure you also write to them and keep a copy of this letter.

The CSA or CMS will try to contact the other parent about any missing payments and will ask them to produce proof that they’ve made payment. If they can’t produce this proof, the CSA or CMS will decide whether to:

  • move them into the Collect and Pay service, and
  • negotiate how repayments can be made, or
  • take measures to make them pay. These are called enforcement measures.

If your maintenance is paid through the Collect and Pay service

If the CSA or CMS set up a Collect and Pay service, this means they collect money from the parent who should pay maintenance and pass it on to you.

If the other parent misses payments, the CSA or CMS will take enforcement measures to try and make them pay what they owe. However, if the CSA or CMS can't recover the money, you won’t get any maintenance.

If the CSA or CMS delays or makes a mistake in collecting arrears

If you lose out financially because the CSA or CMS has delayed or made in mistake in collecting arrears, you can apply for compensation. However you don’t have the right to compensation and compensation is decided on a case-by-case basis.

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