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Child maintenance arrears. Worried about child support payments?

You pay child maintenance, the official name for “child support”, to help with your child’s everyday living costs, like food and clothes.

If you’re trying to balance debt repayments and child maintenance payments our information will give you practical ways to help you manage your situation.

What if I’ve built up arrears on my child support payments?

You should contact the CSA or CMS as soon as possible if you're having problems paying or if you're going to miss a payment. You can find contact details for your local office on any letter they've sent you. They'll work with you to help you clear your arrears and continue making child support payments.

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What happens if I don't pay my child support?

If you don't pay the consequences can be severe. The Child Support Agency (CSA) or Child Maintenance Service (CMS) have the powers to deduct arrears and ongoing payments straight from your earnings or bank account. They have a wide range of other legal powers and as a last resort you can be imprisoned if you refuse to pay.

We understand that things are often tough for parents living apart from their children. However it’s important to stay on top of your payments and treat them as one of your priority outgoings, so you need to make sure you pay this before any of your unsecured debts like credit cards or personal loans.

Our 60-second debt test can tell you if you would benefit from some free and impartial debt advice.

If you've got a family-based child support arrangement your first step is to speak to your ex-partner and explain your situation. You may be able to work together to put an interim arrangement in place until you're able to resume your original agreement. Child maintenance options offer impartial information and support to help parents make informed choices about child maintenance.

Child support options

There are many ways you can help support your child instead of going through the Child Support Agency (CSA) or Child Maintenance Service (CMS). One of the best ways to deal with child support is coming to a family-based arrangement. This is where you and your ex-partner decide between yourselves how and when you’ll both support your child. To do this you could:

  • Pay for certain items directly like school trips or uniforms. This would mean you could save up a certain amount of money each month to cover these costs, rather than having to make a monthly payment. In months where you have a bit less money you could put a bit less away
  • Make a monthly payment that’s agreed by you and your ex-partner. This way you can discuss what’s affordable and realistic, rather than having to pay a set amount.
  • Combine some of these options by picking one or two and do what works best for you and your ex-partner.

Things to remember

  1. The government introduced fees in 2014 for setting up new payment arrangements through CMS. To avoid these fees try working with your ex-partner to come to a family-based arrangement.
  2. If you’re receiving child maintenance it won’t affect any benefits you’re receiving but you should still tell the Jobcentre Plus about the arrangement.
  3. If you’ve got arrears or you’re struggling with your family-based arrangement speak to your ex-partner and try to come to a family-based arrangement. 
  4. The CSA will start to end current arrangements over the next two years (from 2016). Everyone with an arrangement through the CSA will be sent a letter explaining this and given help to set up a new arrangement. Where possible they’ll be encouraged to make a family-based arrangement. If they can’t do this they can apply to the Child Maintenance Service.

Help and advice

If you're struggling to pay your child maintenance, through the CSA or a private arrangement, it's important that you get advice and take steps to deal with your situation. Our Debt Remedy tool can give you tailored advice based on your household situation and budget. We can also recommend solutions to help you deal with your debts.

If you'd rather speak to someone about your situation, call our Helpline and one of our advisors will be able to help. Calls are free from landlines and all mobiles.

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Answer the questions below and we'll help you understand how close you are to having a debt problem and suggest what your next steps could be.

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Foundation for Credit Counselling Wade House, Merrion Centre, Leeds, LS2 8NG trading as StepChange Debt Charity and StepChange Debt Charity Scotland. A registered charity no.1016630 and SC046263. It is a limited company registered in England and Wales (company no:2757055). Authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

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