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Child maintenance - how repayments are negotiated when you're owed maintenance

This advice applies to Wales

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.

This page tells you what happens if you’re owed maintenance under the 1993, 2003 and 2012 Schemes and the parent in arrears negotiates a repayment schedule with the either the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).

If the CSA or CMS negotiates a repayment schedule with the parent who should pay maintenance

In some cases, the CSA or CMS will negotiate a repayment schedule with the parent who owes maintenance. You will be informed of this.

If you’re not happy with the schedule, tell the CSA or CMS and explain your reasons, pointing out how this will be harmful to the welfare of you and the children.

If the CSA or CMS has agreed in writing to an unreasonably low repayment arrangement, this agreement is legally binding, and you will have to accept it.

However, if you think the CSA or CMS have made a mistake in setting a low repayment schedule you can complain about this. For example, they make a mistake with the figures and agree a repayment schedule based on a lower income than the parent with arrears actually earns.

Accepting a part-payment of arrears

If you’re owed maintenance, you could ask the CSA or CMS if it's possible to get a part-payment in full and final settlement. You could choose this option if you think getting some maintenance is better than getting none at all, or if you’re wanting to draw a line under past disputes.

If you're owed maintenance and you agree to a part-payment, you can’t change your mind later. The arrears will no longer be legally due to you. You might want to get expert advice before you agree to this option.

The parent who owes maintenance could also suggest a part-payment in full and final settlement.

However, if the parent who owes maintenance makes an offer that isn’t reasonable, the CSA or CMS won't accept it, and you won't be informed that an offer was made.

The CSA or CMS also won’t accept a part-payment if they believe that the parent who owes maintenance can pay the arrears and there’s a reasonable chance of getting them paid in full.

Before accepting an offer of part-payment made by the parent in arrears, the CSA or CMS will need to get your consent in writing. You might want to get expert advice before you accept it.

If both parents and the CSA or CMS agree to a part-payment, the CSA or CMS will confirm it in writing. They'll give details of how and when the lump sum should be paid. If the parent who should be paying maintenance fails to pay the lump sum as agreed, the CSA or CMS could cancel the agreement and carry on trying to get the arrears back in other ways.

Writing off arrears

The CSA or CMS has the power to write off arrears in rare cases. Writing off arrears means they no longer have to be paid. Reasons include:

  • you tell the CSA or CMS you don’t want the arrears to be collected
  • the parent who should be paying maintenance has died and the arrears can’t be recovered from their estate, or there is no estate from which to recover the arrears
  • the arrears date back to an interim maintenance agreement made between April 1993 and April 1995.

Before they decide to write off arrears, the CSA or CMS must consider all the circumstances of the case and the welfare of the children involved.

If the CSA or CMS wants to write off arrears they will send you a notice, setting out:

  • the amount of arrears
  • when the arrears became due
  • that the decision to write off arrears is final.

They will ask you if you think the arrears should be written off. You have 14 days to reply. Your views will be taken into account but if the CSA or CMS decides write off arrears, you can’t appeal against their decision.

Offsetting money owed to you

In some cases, if there's been a change of circumstances, the CSA or CMS can offset maintenance owed between parents. Offsetting payments means maintenance owed to you could be reduced or written off to compensate for the money you owe under the new arrangement.

Offsetting payments is most likely to happen in cases where a child moves from the care of one parent to the other, or if your shared care arrangements change and you're owed less maintenance.

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