Dealing with your priority debts

​Child maintenance

You can be ordered to pay maintenance either by the court, as part of the separation or divorce process, or by the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service (CMS).

Maintenance through the court

Extra advice:

the Child Maintenance Service

The CSA scheme is changing. From 29 July 2013 some child maintenance cases will be dealt with by the Child Maintenance Service. It will gradually replace the CSA over a three-year period. This means some of the rules will be different when you apply for maintenance and there may be some extra powers to make you pay. Contact us for advice.

If the court has ordered you to make regular payments, you can apply to reduce the payments if you cannot afford them.

If you do not pay, the court can order you to go to a hearing to explain why you have not paid. They can give you more time to pay and, in very rare circumstances, they can write off the arrears.

If the court decides that you are deliberately not paying, they may try to:

  • use bailiffs to take control of goods and sell them;
  • take payments direct from your wages; or
  • order you to be sent to prison.

If you are behind with your maintenance, contact the court immediately. Take a copy of your personal budget to any court hearings and explain why you cannot pay the full amount. The court may reduce the amount you have to pay.

Maintenance through the Child Support Agency or the Child Maintenance Service

If you have a child or children who do not live with you, the CSA or CMS may ask you to pay child maintenance. The CSA or CMS will decide the amount you have to pay by using a set formula. If you do not pay, the CSA or CMS can collect it direct from your wages, or from benefits such as Income Support, Pension Credit, Employment and Support Allowance(either income-related or contribution-based), Jobseeker's Allowance (either income-based or contribution based) or Universal Credit and a range of other benefits, without a court order.


contact the CSA or CMS if you are in arrears

If you are in arrears, make sure the arrears have been worked out properly. Contact the CSA or CMS and try to make an arrangement to repay them. They may accept an amount on top of what you are already paying to clear the arrears over an extended period of time.
Tell the CSA or CMS if you are in hardship, ill health, or have any special circumstances, especially if the payment arrangement will affect your children's welfare. If your circumstances change, you should tell the CSA or CMS immediately.

The CSA or CMS can apply for a deduction order to take payments out of your bank account. This can be for regular payments or for a lump sum, but there are rules about how much money the CSA or CMS are allowed to take out of your account. If they cannot do any of these things, the CSA or CMS can ask the magistrates' court for a 'liability order'. When this has happened, they may try the following.

  • Use bailiffs to take control of goods and sell them.
  • Get a legal charge or 'charging order' on your property, which means your home could be sold if you do not pay.
  • Seize money from your bank account through the county court.
  • Get an order to stop you getting rid of your assets if they think you are trying to avoid paying maintenance.
  • Add your liability order to the Trust Online's register.
  • Ask the court to take away your driving licence for up to two years.
  • Ask the court to take away your UK passport, or ID card, for up to two years.
  • Ask the court to send you to prison for up to six weeks, but the court will only do this if it thinks that you are deliberately not paying.

Even if you lose your licence, have your passport or ID card removed or are sent to prison, you will still have to pay all of the money you owe. If the CSA or CMS has threatened any of these things, contact us for advice.