What happens when a non-resident parent fails to pay child maintenance on time or in full?

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) has been in the news recently, with the publication by the House of Commons Library of its report, ‘Child Maintenance: Fees, enforcement and arrears (UK)’, which sets out what steps the CMS may take when a non-resident, or “paying parent”, fails to pay child maintenance on time, or in full.

Private child maintenance arrangement

It is always encouraged, in first instance, for parents to agree a private child maintenance arrangement outside of the CMS, often using the online CMS calculator as a basis to agree the sums involved. These arrangements are often referred to as “family-based arrangements”. 

If, however agreement cannot be reached, parents are not in contact with each other or an existing agreement breaks down, then the CMS may become involved in calculating, collecting and enforcing a maintenance agreement.

Applying to the CMS - Fees

To make a formal application to the CMS to calculate child maintenance, an individual must apply under the current 2012 scheme (also called CS3). There is a fee payable of £20, unless they are:

• Aged 18 years or under; or

• Living in Northern Ireland; or

• A victim of domestic abuse or violence and they have reported this to “an appropriate person”, such as the police.

Under the “direct pay” method, the CMS will calculate the rate and payments are made directly between the parents. There will be no additional collection fees in this case.

Under the “collect and pay” method, the CMS will collect and pass on the payments. To fund this however, the non-resident parent must pay an extra 20% of the maintenance due and the parent with the care of the child will receive 96% of the maintenance paid by the non-resident parent. By making both parents liable for the collection fees under this method, the parents are encouraged to move to the “direct pay” method.


The CMS does not monitor payments made under the “direct pay” method. However, where a paying parent does not pay on time and in full, they may be liable for all arrears and the parent with care should inform the CMS who will “take swift action to move the case to collect and pay to enforce payment and recover any arrears”

If arrears have accrued under the “collect and pay” method, the paying parent will normally be sent an arrears notice (unless one has already been sent in the last 12 months). 

The CMS aims to recover arrears within two years. The non-resident parent is also expected to pay up to 40% of their net income to clear any arrears. 

Child maintenance can be written off completely in some exceptional circumstances.

Collection and Enforcement powers

There are a variety of ways the CMS can collect arrears.

Without a court order, the CMS may collect arrears through a Deduction from Earnings Order, where the non-resident parent’s employer will deduct payment for the arrears directly from the non-resident parent’s salary. A lump sum or regular deduction can also be made from the non-resident parent’s bank account. The CMS can also collect assets from the estate of a deceased non-resident parent.

With a court “liability order”, the CMS has many options for enforcement available to them, however the most common is appointing a bailiff to take control of goods and applying to the court for an order of sale of a particular asset once it is registered by a court. A fee of £300 is payable to the CMS by the non-paying parent if a liability order is made.

Additional fees may be charged when the CMS takes enforcement action against a non-paying parent.

Written by: Celine Jagmohan (Trainee Solicitor) & Angela Amponsah (Senior Associate Solicitor)

Claiming maintenance payments that are in arrears can be both challenging and stressful and the support of an expert family lawyer is highly advisable. Please contact our family department should you wish to discuss any aspect of child maintenance payments with one of our specialists in the team, on 020 8290 0333, to make an appointment.

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