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Law Articles

Child Maintenance Service (CMS) enforcement powers 13/05/2022

Child maintenance is a financial arrangement in which payment is made by one parent of a child to cover the costs of living of a child or children with whom they do not live. The amount of child maintenance can be arranged directly between former partners under a family-based arrangement, be dealt with in a consent order within divorce and dissolution proceedings, or be calculated by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) with reference to the paying parent’s income and other circumstances.

If child maintenance arrangements have been made through the CMS and the payments stop, are late, or are not made in full, the CMS has a range of powers to enforce payment. Initially, it will contact the paying parent to find out why the payments are not being made in accordance with the agreement, seeking to restart them as soon as possible and an agreement on clearing arrears. If no agreement can be reached, the CMS has recourse to a wide range of enforcement powers, although it can only use one method of enforcement at a time. The decision as to which powers it exercises is entirely down to the CMS and neither parent will have any influence over this.

One such course of action is one of three Deduction Orders. With a Deduction from Earnings Order, the paying parent’s employer will deduct maintenance, in addition to any arrears and an additional £50 administration charge, directly from their earnings. This Order can only be implemented when the paying parent is employed, and not if they are self-employed. There are also options to take money direct from the paying parent’s bank or building society account, without the paying parent’s permission. A Lump Sum Deduction Order freezes and then deducts a lump sum equal to the child maintenance payment arrears, whilst a Regular Deduction Order sets up regular deductions from the account in respect of ongoing maintenance payments and/or to clear arrears. Both these approaches may see the paying parent incur an additional amount in addition to the deduction(s) in respect of CMS charges.

Similarly, the CMS can deduct up to £7.40 per week in respect of child maintenance from any benefits the paying parent receives, and a further deduction to cover any arrears.

The CMS can also apply to the court for a Liability Order, which formally recognises the sum of the debt in respect of child maintenance arrears owed over a period of time. Once a Liability Order is in place, the CMS can share information concerning the debt with credit reference agencies. Bailiffs can also be instructed to seize and sell belongings owned by the paying parent to recoup part or all of the debt owed. A Charging Order could also be made against any property the paying parent owns, meaning that the child maintenance debt is secured against that property. This could lead to an Order for Sale of that property to realise the child maintenance debt.

A Liability Order also opens the door to action in the Magistrates’ Court. This could result in an order to make payment, disqualification from driving, or a prison sentence.

For further information and advice on this issue, and other family law issues, please contact us for a free initial consultation on 01992 306 616 or 0207 956 2740 or email us.

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Manor Law Ltd, trading as Manor Law Family Solicitors, is a registered company in England and Wales - number 07977350, and is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority - Hertford office SRA number 567506 and City of London office SRA number 568637. Copyright © Manor Law, 2016. All rights reserved.

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