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Child maintenance enforcement - where to start

This advice applies to Northern Ireland

If you’re the parent who should pay maintenance arranged by the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), and you don’t pay, they can take action against you to make you pay. This is called enforcement action.

This page tells you what options the CMS and CSA have for taking enforcement action. This information applies to the 1993 Scheme, the 2003 Scheme and the 2012 Child Maintenance Schemes.

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.

What enforcement action can be taken against you

The Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) can try to recover arrears of maintenance in the following ways:

  • take money from your earnings. This is called a deductions from earnings order
  • take money from your bank or building society account. This is called a deduction order
  • apply to court for a liability order
  • apply to court for a charging order to force you to sell property and use the money to pay off child maintenance arrears.

If all other enforcement methods have failed, the CMS can apply to court for you to be disqualified from driving or sent to prison.

Enforcement charges

There are charges for enforcement action against parents using the 2012 Child Maintenance Scheme.

Orders preventing avoidance

If you've disposed of property to avoid paying maintenance, the CSA or CMS can apply for an order to cancel the sale or transfer. This is called an order to set aside the disposition.

However, the court can't set aside a disposition if it was made:

  • for a reasonable payment, and
  • to a person who acted in good faith who was not aware of your intention to avoid child maintenance payments.

Time limits to enforce child maintenance arrears

There is usually no time limit within which the CSA or CMS can collect child maintenance arrears. However, no liability order could be granted from 12 July 2006 for maintenance due before 12 July 2000.

Debt collection agencies

The CSA or CMS can use a debt collection agency to find the parent who should be paying maintenance and collect long-standing arrears. If the CSA or CMS uses a debt collection agency, the debt collection agency will have a contract with the CSA or the CMS, and must follow agreed guidelines.

Next steps

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