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What to do if your ex partner refuses to pay for child maintenance

Published on 19 February 2021 | Modified on 14 December 2022

Written by Stacey Bennett

Disagreements surrounding the child maintenance payments are some of the most common queries we hear from separated parents. Trying to manage the often very strained relationship with the other parent of a child you share is not easy, but particularly where financial support, or lack thereof, is a concern.

The truth is that, whilst family lawyers are always willing and able to advise and on such matters, this is one area where you may well find that the advice is not to formally instruct us, lawyers, at least not initially, to try and get matters resolved. Lawyers are duty-bound to always bear in mind a cost/benefit analysis when it comes to advising clients. When it comes to issues surrounding child maintenance, it is often not cost-effective to instruct a lawyer when the matter is best dealt with by the Child Maintenance Service (who used to be called the Child Support Agency), who can provide child maintenance advice

This is not a cop-out….rather the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) is often best placed to get a child maintenance dispute resolved swiftly and cost-effectively. The CMS is a government agency, whose purpose is to administer and ensure compliance with the legal requirement for one parent to pay child maintenance in appropriate cases. To some extent, they have done us, family lawyers, out of a job.

If you can agree on a voluntary payment arrangement without involving the CMS then great. But, in terms of how much in law your ex-partner should pay, or you pay your ex-partner, that depends on a variety of factors. Below is a useful guide to how that is calculated as well as a link to the CMS’s own online calculator (or you can call then on 0800 988 0988). It may be that you agree on a different arrangement, but knowing what in law you are entitled to is always a useful starting point.

So often the answer to the question “what to do if your ex-partner refuses to pay child maintenance?” is to contact the CMS. If you cannot agree, or if the agreement is not working, the CMS has teeth and they will bite on your behalf if need be. Their child maintenance enforcement ensures that parents pay maintenance for their children, including making direct deductions from the other parent’s wages. This will cost the paying party an additional 20% of the amount they are required to pay and the receiving party gets 4% less, but in some cases, it is better than getting nothing. The threat of the 20% “fee” is often a sufficient incentive for the payer to agree to pay what they should voluntarily, without a deduction from their wages. The CMS adopts a staged approach to enforcement, trying to ensure payment is done directly at first before looking at other options such as this.

The CMS can also ensure you receive the arrears of maintenance owing (but not those owing prior to their involvement), take money directly from the non-payers bank account, put charging orders over the property, apply for liability orders (which means the bailiffs can come knocking), even apply for driving disqualifications or disqualifications from holding or obtaining a passport – in other words – don’t mess.

However, in some cases, you may not want to immediately involve the CMS, there are other options to agree payments between separated parents and you may feel a strongly-worded letter from a solicitor outlining the legal position and your reasonable demands is the first step – and one that we are of course more than happy to help with, we just do advise you to explore all your options first before getting in touch with one of our experienced family lawyers.

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