Child maintenance orders

Child maintenance orders require a parent who doesn’t have the main day-to-day care of their child to provide financial support towards their child’s everyday living costs when they have separated from the other parent.

A private agreement can be made between you and your ex-partner meaning a maintenance order is unnecessary. Where such an amicable arrangement cannot be met, however, the Child Maintenance Service can arrange child maintenance payments.

Child Maintenance Service

The Child Maintenance Service (CMS) is an enforcing body in the UK that can be contacted when a private mutual agreement over child maintenance cannot be arranged. You must talk to Child Maintenance Options before you can apply to the Child Maintenance Service and you may have to pay a fee to apply to the CMS.

The CMS will calculate how much maintenance should be paid by your ex. You and your child’s other parent can then either agree between yourselves how the money will be paid, and they pay it directly to you (direct pay), or the CMS will collect it and pay it to you (collect and pay). There is a fee for using the collect and pay service though

Court maintenance orders

Court orders for maintenance

The CMS is the main body that deals with for child maintenance applications. However, a court can deal with applications for child maintenance if.

  • your ex-partner lives outside the UK so you can’t apply to the CMS;
  • the CMS did not take into account extra expenses you have when making a maintenance calculation (eg, the extra costs of a child’s disability);
  • you feel the maintenance that would be awarded under the CMS calculation would not be enough if, for example, your ex-partner has a very high income.

Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Orders (REMO)

The Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Orders (REMO) is an international agreement between different countries that can help recover child maintenance from a parent living overseas.

So, if your former partner lives abroad, you can apply to a UK court for a maintenance order which can be registered and enforced on your ex by authorities and courts in foreign countries. The availability of such an order depends on whether or not the country is a signatory.

Enforcing maintenance orders

If your ex-partner refuses to pay the money owed under a child maintenance order, the CMS and the courts have various ways of recovering such arrears:

Charging order

If your ex-partner is a home owner, you can apply a ‘charge’ to the property which ensures that upon the sale of the property, maintenance arrears will be paid. An application can be made through the court for an early sale of the property once the charge has been obtained.

Deduction order

This involves money to cover the arrears being taken from your former partner’s bank or building society account

Liability order

If a liability order is granted, the case can be referred to the bailiffs who could come and take your ex partner’s property away to be sold to cover arrears and costs

Deductions from earnings order

If your ex is employed, the courts and CMS can approach their employer so an amount can be deducted from their salary to meet maintenance payments.

Garnishee orders

When a third party owes money to your former partner or is holding money on their behalf, the court can order that some or all of that money is recovered and given to you to cover unpaid maintenance payments.

Freezing injunctions

If your ex is concealing available finances, a court order can be obtained to get affected bank accounts frozen. The ability to move money out of the country is thus stopped so the court can decide how the assets should be divided. 

Judgment summons

If all other enforcement action fails, the court can order that your ex should be disqualified from driving or even sent to prison.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.