What happens if a parent does not pay child maintenance in NI

Child maintenance is money that covers your child’s living costs. It is paid by the parent who no longer lives with the child, to the person who has most of the care for the child. It is also known as child support.

In Northern Ireland, child maintenance applies to children who are under the age of 16 or 20 and still in full-time education not higher than A-Level.

How does Child Maintenance work?

You are entitled to child maintenance if:

  • you’re the child’s main caregiver – usually a parent, grandparent or guardian
  • the other parent does not live in the same house as part of your family

You’ll have to pay child maintenance if you:

  • are the child’s biological or adoptive parent
  • don’t live with the child as part of their family
  • are the child’s legal parent

What happens if you don’t pay maintenance?

If a parent should be paying child maintenance but isn’t, the other parent can ask the court to enforce a Consent Order. The court can order money to be taken directly from the wages or property of the parent who should be paying child maintenance and can also force them to sell their belongings.

The parent who doesn’t have the day-to-day care (the ‘paying parent’) pays child maintenance to the parent or person who does (the ‘receiving parent’).

If you use the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) Collect and Pay service but don’t make a payment or don’t pay the full amount, CMS will telephone and write to you. CMS will tell you that they will start enforcement action within a week unless you:

  • agree to pay the full amount missed
  • keep to the original child maintenance decision

If you don’t agree, Child Maintenance Service can take action to collect the money from you.

  • Deduct from earnings request
  • Deduct from bank or buildings society
  • Liability court order

Your employer Becomes Involved

If you are not contributing to child maintenance your employer must take the amount CMS asked for from your income and send it to them. If your employer doesn’t do this, CMS can take your employer to court. 

If your employer is not able to take the full amount from your earnings or pension, then the employer must take what they can. CMS will instruct that your employer leaves a certain amount to cover your cost of living. 

Deductions from bank or building society accounts

CMS can ask your bank or building society to take child maintenance from your account. CMS doesn’t need your agreement to do this or ask a court for permission and you might be charged an admin fee for each deduction made.

The deduction from your account can be:

  • regular payments
  • a one-off lump-sum 

For more advice on legal matters regarding child maintenance and please get in touch with one of our expert family lawyers who will be able to provide you will all the support you need.

Related blogs:

Considerations related to joint custody

A guide to child support and custody options

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