Non-payment of child maintenance: What happens if a parent doesn’t pay?

26 May 2021

By Jesca Knott, Paralegal, Family Law Team

Under a child maintenance arrangement, child maintenance is usually paid by the parent who does not have day-to-day care of the child or does not usually live with the child.

If this payment is not forthcoming the receiving parent can approach the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), which has wide-ranging powers of enforcement. 

When will the CMS act?
This will depend on whether you reached a private child maintenance agreement or if your agreement was arranged through the CMS.

If you reached a private or ‘family-based’ agreement 
If a private arrangement for child maintenance has broken down due to non-payment, the CMS can step in to collect ongoing child maintenance. This is provided the arrangement was made legally binding via a consent order at least 12 months prior. The CMS cannot recoup any arrears the paying parent already owes, though you could approach the court to enforce the consent order and recover the debt.

If you arranged child maintenance through the CMS
If the CMS collects maintenance from the paying parent on your behalf through ‘Collect and Pay’, they will know if payments have been missed. After trying to agree on a repayment schedule with the paying parent, they will use the enforcement measures outlined above to secure the arrears. 

If the paying parent has agreed to pay you directly, known as ‘Direct Pay’, the CMS will need to be informed of non-payment before they can take action. 

What measures can the CMS take if a parent fails to pay?
The CMS can secure payment using a range of powers, including:

Ordering the paying parent’s employer to make a deduction from their wages or pension 

Instructing the paying parent’s bank or building society to take regular payments or a lump sum from their account

Taking the paying parent to court to recover arrears via a liability order 

What is a liability order?
A liability order allows the CMS to take legal action against the paying parent to recover the debt. They could:

Negotiate payment using bailiffs, or ask them to seize and sell the paying parent’s belongings

Use an ‘order for sale’ to sell the paying parent’s assets or property and take the proceeds 

Place the paying parent’s debt on the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines, which will hinder them from getting a mortgage, credit card or loan

Revoke the paying parent’s passport or driving licence, or prevent them from getting one 

Send the paying parent to prison 

What happens if the paying parent is furloughed?
If a paying parent is in receipt of the 80% furlough payment, they will be expected to pay maintenance in full. The CMS will implement enforcement measures if payment is not forthcoming.

If you need to discuss a child maintenance arrangement and would like a free initial consultation with a member of our expert Family Law team, please contact us on 01244 356 789 or email

Please note: This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.