Child maintenance enforcement - sanctions ordered by the court
Both parents are legally responsible for the financial support of the children.
If you owe maintenance arranged by the Child Support Agency (CSA) or Child Maintenance Service (CMS), under the 1993, 2003 or 2012 Schemes, and other enforcement methods haven’t worked, they could apply to court for further sanctions. Sanctions the court can impose can be either stopping you from holding a driving licence or sending you to prison.
This page tells you more about sanctions and what happens when you go to court.
When the CSA or CMS will apply to the court for further sanctions
If the Child Support Agency (CSA) or Child Maintenance Service (CMS) have got a liability order against you but other enforcement methods haven’t worked and you still owe maintenance, they can apply to the magistrates' court for an order for further sanctions.
This power is only used as a last resort and the CSA or CMS should consider the welfare of any child likely to be affected by the sanctions before they do this.
The court could make an order to:
- prevent you from holding or obtaining a driving licence
- send you to prison, if you're aged 18 or over
- stop you from having or using a UK passport
The CSA or CMS might recommend which of these sanctions they would like the court to consider. However, if the order is granted, the magistrates will decide whether to make the order for driving disqualification or prison.
What happens if the CSA or CMS apply to court for further sanctions
Coronavirus - if the CMS have sent you a letter about a court hearing
You should call the CMS straight away - you can find their phone number in your welcome pack or at the top of any letter from them.
If your income has dropped because of coronavirus, you should ask them to delay the court hearing.
If they say the court hearing will still go ahead, it will happen over the phone or by video call - these are sometimes called ‘remote hearings’. Check how to prepare for a remote hearing.
If the CSA or CMS apply to court for further sanctions, you’ll get a summons to attend the court hearing This will set out the amount of arrears and the date and time of the hearing. If you don’t go to the hearing, the court could issue a warrant for you to be arrested and a new date will be set. This is because you must be at the hearing.
At the hearing, the court will ask you about:
- your financial circumstances
- whether you've deliberately refused or neglected to pay maintenance. This is called wilful refusal or culpable neglect
- whether you need a driving licence for work.
Make sure you take full details of your financial situation to the hearing and proof about why you need a driving licence. For example, you could take a letter from your employer to confirm you need to drive for work and that you might lose your job and be unable to repay the arrears if your driving licence is taken away.
The court will consider all the circumstances of the case. If they decide that you've deliberately refused or neglected to pay maintenance, they can stop you from holding or obtaining a driving licence for a fixed period of up to two years.
The court can decide to suspend the order. They could do this for example, on condition that you pay a set amount towards the arrears until they're paid off. If you don’t keep to this arrangement, the penalty will be re-instated.
If the court doesn’t think that disqualification from driving is appropriate, they could:
- issue a warrant to send you to prison, and
- send you to prison for up to six weeks.
The order to send you to prison can be suspended, and conditions set out about when it will start. For example, you can be given time to pay off the arrears before you're sent to prison.
After your prison sentence ends, your arrears are not written off. You remain liable for the arrears and the CSA or CMS can continue to take enforcement action against you.
You can appeal against the court order but only on a point of law. You'll need expert advice about appeals.
If you pay off the arrears
If you pay off all of the arrears stated in the order, which will include an amount for the costs of going to court, you can apply to get your driving licence back. If you were sent to prison, you’ll be released. This will happen if either you, the CSA or CMS tell the court the arrears have been paid off.
If you pay back part of the amount, the period of driving disqualification or your prison sentence will be shortened according to how much you’ve paid off.
If you're in prison, check if you should pay off the arrears to the prison authorities or to the CSA or CMS.