Child maintenance enforcement - liability orders
Both parents are legally responsible for financially supporting any children.
If the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) arranged maintenance under the 1993, 2003 or 2012 Child Maintenance Schemes, and you don’t pay, they can go to court to get an order called a liability order. This then allows them to take further action against you.
This page tells you more about what happens if a liability order is made against you.
When you're most likely to have a liability order made against you
If you’re in arrears you can ask to negotiate repayments directly with the CSA or CMS. If this isn't possible, they will try to deduct the money you owe from your wages, benefits or bank account.
If you don't keep to the agreement to repay the arrears, the CSA or CMS can apply to the magistrates’ court for a liability order. This will then allow them to try to recover the arrears of maintenance in other ways.
Once a liability order has been made, the CSA or CMS doesn't have to use it straightaway. They may wait to see if you can keep to the arrangement. If they choose to use the liability order, they have to act within certain time limits, depending on which enforcement measure they use.
The liability order only covers arrears. You’ll have to make a separate arrangement to cover the on-going maintenance payments you still have to pay .
How is a liability order made?
If you have child maintenance arrears, the CSA or CMS will write to you, setting out how much money you owe and stating that you should make a suitable repayment arrangement.
If you don’t reply to this letter within 14 days, you’ll be sent a second letter informing you that the CSA or CMS may apply for a liability order within the next seven days. If you live outside the UK, you must be given 28 days' notice. You’ll be sent a summons giving the time and date of the court hearing.
The CSA or CMS will check that you haven’t disputed a decision or made an appeal before they apply for a liability order. They won’t apply if it looks likely that, following the dispute or appeal, the amount of maintenance you have to pay will be reduced. However, even if you have an outstanding appeal this doesn’t always mean that they won’t apply for a liability order.
You can make a suitable repayment offer to avoid court action at any time.
The magistrates’ court may decide not to make an order if you seem to be co-operating with the CSA or CMS. However, the CSA or CMS may still ask for the order to be granted on the understanding that it won’t enforced if you continue to co-operate.
If you don’t go to the court hearing, the CSA or CMS may still obtain the order. If you do go to court, the magistrate may adjourn the case, to allow more time for you to negotiate repayments with the CSA or CMS.
What happens when a liability order has been made?
Once a liability order has been granted, the CSA or CMS can take further action, for example:
- instruct bailiffs who can take your goods away, or
- apply to court to place a charge on your property. This is called a charging order.
A charging order allows the CSA or CMS to recover the money you owe if the property is sold. They may then apply for an order to force the sale of your property.
If these methods are not successful, the CSA or CMS can take further enforcement action. They can apply to court for an order to:
- disqualify you from driving
- send you to prison.
Registration of the debt
When a liability order has been granted, the CSA or CMS can arrange for the debt to be registered in the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines. Registration of the debt may affect your ability to get credit in the future.
Can you appeal against a liability order?
There is no right of appeal against a liability order. However, you may be able to apply to a magistrates' court to have a liability order cancelled. This is called setting aside the order.
The order could be set aside, for example, if you received no notice of the original proceedings or if there’s evidence of improper action by the CSA or CMS. Get expert advice about applying for a liability order to be set aside.
If you have to go to court for a liability order, you will have to pay court fees as well as an administration fee to the CSA or CMS.
Once a liability order has been granted, this may result in the bailiffs taking your goods away so they can be sold. The proceeds will be used to pay your arrears. You must try to negotiate any repayment arrangements direct with the bailiffs rather than the CMS. However, the CMS will instruct the bailiffs not to take further action if you make a lump sum payment to pay off the arrears.
The CSA or CMS can apply for a charging order against your property, If you still fail to pay the arrears, the CMS can apply for an order for sale.
- More about the registration of court judgments in England and Wales [ 41 kb]
- More about bailiffs in England and Wales
- More about charging orders in England and Wales