Parents sent to prison for non-payment of Child Maintenance

The Child Support Act 1991 gave the Secretary of State the power to apply to the Magistrates’ Court to commit a non-resident parent to prison for failure to pay child support maintenance. The Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 established the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission and transferred this power to the Commission.

The Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 contains some new provisions which relate to the imprisonment of non-resident parents for non-payment of child support maintenance and which are expected to come into force in 2010.

In what circumstances will such an application be made?

The current position

Currently the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission has the power to apply to the Court for the issue of a warrant committing a non-resident parent to prison if: 

  • it has tried to levy the arrears by distress and sale of the non-resident parent’s goods in accordance with the Child Support Act 1991; or
  • it has tried to recover the arrears by means of a third party debt order or a charging order; and
  • the arrears remain outstanding in full or in part.

The position under the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008

When the new provisions of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 come into force the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission will have the power to apply to the Court for the issue of a warrant committing a non-resident parent to prison if: 

  • it has tried to recover the arrears through the use of bailiffs or by means of a third party debt order or a charging order;
  • the arrears remain outstanding in full or in part; and
  • it is of the opinion that the non-resident parent has wilfully refused or culpably neglected to pay child support maintenance. 

For the purposes of the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 the Commission will be treated as having sought to recover arrears by way of a charging order if an interim charging order is in place and irrespective as to whether or not further action has been taken to recover the arrears.

What matters will the Court take into account when deciding whether to commit a non-resident parent to prison?

When deciding whether to issue a warrant committing a non-resident parent to prison the Court will be required (by both the Child Support Act 1991 and the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008) to inquire in the presence of the non-resident parent: 

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For more information on:

  • When will a warrant not be issued?
  • Will the Court be able to question the liability order on which the application has been made or the original maintenance calculation?
  • If a warrant is issued how long will the non-resident parent be imprisoned for?
  • Who will be responsible for the costs associated with the application for the issue of a warrant?
  • Does the Court have any other powers?