Legal action Child Maintenance Service can take

Child Maintenance Service (CMS) can take legal action against paying parents (non-resident parent’s, 2003 scheme) living in Northern Ireland if you don't pay child maintenance. They can apply for a liability order to recover arrears if you owe child maintenance payments.

Getting a liability order 

CMS can apply for a liability order in a magistrate's court to recover any missed child maintenance.

The order:

  • legally recognises there is a debt to be paid
  • gives court authority to CMS to take legal action to get the child maintenance owed

Once the liability order is granted, it's registered with the Enforcement of Judgments Office (EJO) to enforce payment of the liability order. Before taking any legal action, CMS will contact you as the paying parent (non-resident parent, 2003 scheme) to ask you to voluntarily pay the child maintenance owed under the liability order.

They'll also tell you what legal action they'll take if you don't pay. 

What a liability order covers

A liability order only covers the arrears of Child Maintenance owed. You need to make separate arrangements for ongoing maintenance payments.

If you don’t pay the ongoing regular maintenance, the arrears will continue to build. CMS will then apply for another liability order to recover any extra arrears.

Paying a liability order

If you pay a liability order,  you should tell CMS as they may put your payment towards regular child maintenance or other child maintenance that you owe.

CMS will give you a unique reference number for each liability order against you. Use this reference number in all of your contact with CMS.  

Legal action that CMS can take

CMS can take legal action to make you, the paying parent (non-resident parent, 2003 scheme), pay the child maintenance you owe under the liability order.

They can:

  • register an order with Land Registry or Registry of Deeds against your land or property ensuring you cannot sell unless you pay what you owe from the money you make from the sale
  • issue an ‘order of seizure’ against any goods you own (for example your car or motorcycle)
  • freeze your bank account and ask for the child maintenance owed (known as an ‘Attachment of Debt’ or ‘Garnishee Order’)
  • issue a ‘receiver order’ where it is known that you are about to receive money from a third party (for example a claim, criminal injury award or proceeds from a house sale)
  • register your name in the Stubbs’ Gazette which may affect your credit rating or membership of a professional body
  • agree an ‘instalment order’ so you can pay the debt off in instalments over a period of time -if you do not keep to this arrangement, the creditor (EJO) may apply to the court for committal proceedings
  • issue an ‘Attachment of Earnings Order’ to an employer so that the money you owe can be taken from your wages
  • enter a liability order on the Register of Judgements which may affect your ability to get a loan and your membership of a professional organisation (if you are on this register and you own a business, your suppliers may ask you to change how you pay for their goods and services)
  • What happens if you don’t pay child maintenance

Unpaid liability orders

If the liability order remains unpaid, CMS can apply to the courts. Taking court action is expensive and you could end up:

  • paying your legal costs, CMS’ legal costs and the child maintenance you owe
  • being forced to sell your property to get the money you owe
  • getting  an ‘order of disqualification’ which takes your driving licence away or prevents you from getting a driving licence for up to two years
  • getting ‘a warrant of commitment’ which sends you to prison for up to six weeks

If you're disqualified from driving or sent to prison, you still need to pay all the money you owe.

Other reasons CMS can take legal action

There are other times when CMS may take legal action against you, the paying parent (non-resident parent, 2003 scheme). They can do this when you:

  • avoid paying child maintenance by not giving CMS information when it asks for it
  • give CMS information you know is false
  • knowingly cause, or knowingly allow, false information to be provided
  • don’t tell CMS your circumstances have changed
  • are suspected by CMS of disposing of, or have already disposed of, a valuable asset to stop CMS from selling it to get the child maintenance you owe

By law, you and a receiving parent (parent with care, 2003 scheme) must tell CMS about changes in your circumstances.

If you give CMS information that you know is false, they could take you to court where you could be fined £1,000.

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