Child maintenance payments have been a hot topic throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, many single parents have seen their child maintenance payments reduced or stopped because of the financial impact of COVID-19. But what happens if a parent doesn’t pay child maintenance?
Under normal circumstances, the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) can take action against a parent that doesn’t pay child maintenance in full or misses a payment. However, the last 12 months have hardly been normal. Job losses, salary reductions and the threat of redundancy have wreaked havoc when it comes to child maintenance payments.
But, with Britain slowly emerging from lockdown life, the Child Maintenance Service is likely to get tough on parents who don’t pay child maintenance or miss payments, especially if they have the means to pay.
The Paying Parent
If you are the parent paying child maintenance and you miss a payment or fail to pay in full, the CMS will initially contact you, informing you that they intend to start enforcement action within seven days unless you:
- Agree to pay the full amount missed
- Stick to the original child maintenance decision
If you don’t make a child maintenance agreement, the Child Maintenance Service can take action to collect the money from you. You may also have to pay for any action that the CMS takes against you.
The CMS has the power to order your employer to deduct payments from your wages or pension to pay child maintenance. This is known as a ‘deduction from earnings order’ or a ‘deduction from earnings request’ if you work the UK armed forces.
It’s worth knowing that the CMS does not need to apply to a court to get an order.
If your employer is instructed to deduct an amount from your wages to pay child maintenance, they must comply. If an employer fails to deduct the amount requested, the CMS can take your employer to court.
In deducting a child maintenance amount from your wages, your employer is entitled to take up to £1 from your earnings to cover their administrative fees. If your employer is unable to take the required amount because you haven’t earned enough in a particular week, they can take what they can.
However, the CMS will instruct your employer to leave an amount that will cover your living costs. Should your income fall below a certain level, you can contact the CMS to discuss a reduction in the amount of child maintenance you pay.
Bank or Building Society Deductions
If the CMS is unable to take an amount from your wages, they can instruct your bank or building society to pay child maintenance from your account.
You should note that the CMS does not need your permission for this, nor do they need authorisation from the court.
Your bank or building society can also charge you an administration fee for every deduction.
Court Liability Order
If you have child maintenance payments that are outstanding, the CMS can take you court to collect the unpaid amount. They can apply for a ‘liability order’ and if the court grants it, legal action will be taken against you.
Furthermore, if a liability order for CMS is registered with credit reference agencies, this will affect the credit of the paying parent and stays on their credit file for up to seven years.
Providing false information to the CMS
If you attempt to avoid paying child maintenance by giving false information to the CMS, you can be taken to court and fined up to £1,000 should:
- You fail to give the CMS the information it needs
- You knowingly give information that is false
- You fail to notify the CMS that your address has changed
The CMS can take legal action against parents, employers and accountants.
What else can the CMS do if you don’t pay child maintenance?
The CMS can:
- Instruct bailiffs to attend your property, seize your belongings and sell them to get the maintenance owed
- Freeze your bank, building society or Post Office account
- Freeze money that an individual or business owes you
- Request that Land Registry puts a ‘charging order’ against you
- Force the sale of a property or asset you own to get the child maintenance owed