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, it may try to use diligence against you. In some situations, you could even 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 sheriff court for a 'liability order'. This order would allow them to take further action by using diligence. However, before the CSA can take these other types of action against you, they must serve a 'charge for payment' on you and the time limit shown on it must have run out. Taking action through the courts can be expensive, and it can result in you paying your own legal costs and the CSA's or the CMS's legal costs, as well as the maintenance you owe.


Extra advice:


The types of diligence that the CSA or CMS can use are similar to those used by the councils when collecting council tax arrears.

If you deliberately do not pay the child maintenance you owe, the CSA or CMS can apply to the court for:

  • an order of disqualification, which could result in your driving licence being taken away or you not being able to get a driving licence for up to two years;
  • an order of disqualification, which could result in your UK passport, or ID card, being taken away or you not being able to apply for one for up to two years; or
  • a warrant of commitment, which could result in you being sent to prison for up to six weeks.

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 have threatened any of these things, contact us for advice.