What’s a liability order for child maintenance?
If you’ve been through the UK’s child maintenance system for any length of time, you’ll have heard about liability orders. They’re a part of the CMS’s strategy for enforcing child maintenance, but how does a liability order for child maintenance work, and what happens next?
What is a liability order?
A liability refers to money that a person owes.
A liability order is an order from the court that allows the person who is owed the money to take legal action against the person who has not paid – it’s a legal demand for money.
One is allowed to attend court to contest a liability order. It’s an order that is often used to register council tax debt, but after having spoken to the CMS, it appears that the procedure works slightly differently to council tax orders.
What happens after the liability order is granted?
If the court grants the order, the CMS will wait to receive the documentation from the court – this can take up to a few days. They will then contact the paying parent and give them 10 days from the receipt of their letter to contact them and arrange to pay the debt.
This can add to your anxiety if you are waiting to hear the outcome of a hearing, but unfortunately there’s little to do other than to wait.
If the debt is not paid or an arrangement isn’t made, the CMS can take the following legal actions:
- asking bailiffs to collect the debt or to seize the paying parent’s assets and sell them.
- registering a paying parent’s debt on the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines – leaving a ‘black mark’ on their credit file and making it difficult for them to get credit such as a mortgage, loan, credit card or phone contract.
- using an ‘order for sale’ to sell a paying parent’s assets.
- removing the paying parent’s driving licence.
- sending the paying parent to prison.
These actions do not write off the debt – if, for example, a parent’s driving licence is taken away, they would still have to pay their child maintenance debt.
Does a liability order stop ongoing payments?
No, a liability order for child maintenance applies to a specific debt – it doesn’t remove the legal responsibility to provide for one’s child financially.
If a parent has refused to pay and has received a liability order, it’s quite likely that they may continue to incur debt from continued non-payment; the CMS would then have to apply for another order to cover the extra arrears.
Things to consider if you are the paying parent and refuse to pay
Besides the debt accrued as a result of not paying maintenance, the CMS will charge you for taking this enforcement action against you. This means that delaying payment could have the effect of incurring a lot more debt.
The charges are:
- £50 for having to take money directly from your earnings or from your bank account
- £200 for having to take a lump sum from your bank account
- £300 for setting up a liability order.
Advice if you are the receiving parent
Do not speak to the paying parent about the enforcement action.
Don’t get stressed by the wait – this process takes time, which does seem to favour the paying parent, but there’s little point in being stressed about it. I advocate calling the CMS weekly for updates, but when a court date has been set for the hearing, there is nothing that can be done but to wait, and push for enforcement of any extra arrears.
After the liability order is granted, you may focus on pushing the CMS to actually use the powers they have and ask for one or more of the legal actions listed above.
Unfortunately, one cannot rely on the CMS to use their powers without external prodding – once you’ve gotten this far, don’t take the pressure off.
If you haven’t done yet, download my free child maintenance planner to record key events such as liability order dates, order numbers and amounts.
Stay positive, and read my related child maintenance posts here.