Child maintenance enforcement - where to start
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.
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:
- taking money from your earnings. This is called a deductions from earnings order
- taking money from your benefits (not under the 1993 Scheme)
- taking money from your bank or building society account, including joint accounts, or partnership accounts formed in England or Wales - this is called a deduction order
- applying to court for a liability order. If a liability order is granted, they can refer the case to the sheriff officers who could come and take your property away to be sold to cover arrears and costs.
- applying to court for an inhibition 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 CSA or CMS can apply to court for you to be disqualified from driving or sent to prison. A court can also stop you from having and using a UK passport.
There are charges for enforcement action against parents using the 2012 Child Maintenance Scheme.
Orders preventing avoidance
The CSA or CMS have the power to apply to the Court of Session or the Sheriff Court to prevent you from getting rid of property or transferring property if they believe you’re doing this to avoid paying child maintenance.
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.