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Child maintenance - if you owe maintenance

This advice applies to Wales

Both parents are legally responsible for the financial costs of bringing up the children. If you split up, usually the parent who doesn't have day-to-day care of the children is responsible for paying maintenance.

If the Child Support Agency (CSA) or the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) arranged maintenance under the 1993, 2003 or 2012 Child Maintenance Schemes, you miss maintenance payments, the CSA or CMS can take enforcement action against you to try and make you pay what you owe.

This page tells you what you can do if you miss maintenance payments and fall into arrears.

Arrears if you have a family-based arrangement

If you made a family-based agreement, the CMS can’t get involved if you can’t pay the maintenance you agreed. Try to negotiate with the other parent to pay back the arrears in a way you can afford. This could be in instalments, or a lump sum at a later date.

If the arrangement breaks down, the other parent can make an application to the CMS to arrange maintenance.

Arrears if your circumstances have changed

Tell the CSA or CMS about changes in your circumstances that may have led to the arrears. For example, if your earnings drop by at least 25 per cent, you can ask for the amount of maintenance you pay to be reduced.

Check the amount of money you owe is correct

Make sure the claim for arrears is correct. You should also check your maintenance calculation to make sure you're not paying too much. If the figures are wrong, ask for a review or appeal. The CM Options website has a maintenance calculator you can use to check how much money you should be paying.

If you pay maintenance through Direct Pay

If you’ve agreed to pay maintenance directly to the other parent through the Direct Pay scheme but you get into arrears, try to negotiate with the other parent first.

Ask to pay the arrears back in instalments or in full at a later date. If the other parent doesn’t agree to this, they can contact the CSA or CMS who will try to get you to pay.

If you don’t pay, the CSA or CMS will consider whether to:

  • move you into the Collect and Pay service, and
  • take measures to make you pay. These are called enforcement measures.

If you've paid maintenance as agreed but the other parent says you haven’t, you'll have to produce proof of payment before the CSA or CMS will take these steps.

You pay maintenance through the Collect and Pay service

If the CSA or CMS set up a Collect and Pay service, they will collect money from you and pass it on to the other parent. If you don’t pay as ordered, the CSA or CMS will take enforcement measures to make you pay.

Arrears if you've disputed a maintenance decision

If you’ve disputed a maintenance decision or are appealing, the CSA or CMS can suspend recovery of arrears until after the outcome of the dispute or appeal.

This may happen if it’s likely that after the review or appeal you’ll be ordered to pay less maintenance. If the CSA or CMS suspends recovery, they will inform the other parent.

You owe maintenance to more than one person

If you owe maintenance to more than one person, the CSA or CMS can decide how to split the lump sum you're offering in part-payment between any parents who are owned maintenance. You can say who you would prefer to get the part-payment.

If you don't mind who gets the money, the CSA or CMS will write to everyone owed maintenance and ask if they're prepared to accept a reduced amount. A parent doesn’t have to accept the offer. Any other parents who do accept the offer will get the part-payment divided between them.

If a parent rejects the part-payment offer, the CSA or CMS will still try to make you pay what you owe to them.


If you’ve been made bankrupt you'll still be legally liable to pay back the arrears unless the CSA or CMS has agreed to write them off. Arrears can only be written off in a few circumstances.

The CSA or CMS delay or make a mistake in collecting arrears

If you lose out financially because the CSA or CMS has delayed or made a mistake in calculating or collecting arrears, you can apply for compensation from the CSA or CMS. Compensation claims are looked at on a case-by-case basis.

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