Liability to Maintain Family

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Part 1 : Introduction

  • Description of Scheme
  • Information Leaflet
  • Legislation
  • Administration

Part 2 : Investigation And Assessment Procedures

  • Functions
  • Assessment of Contribution
  • Method of Payment
  • Enforcement
  • Court Orders
  • Attachment of Earnings
  • Efforts Condition
  • Maintenance Orders

Part 1 : Introduction

Description of Scheme

Men and women are required under the law to maintain their dependent spouses/civil partners/ cohabitants (or former spouses/civil partners/cohabitants in the case of divorce/civil partnership dissolved) and dependent children. Those who fail to maintain their spouses/ civil partners/cohabitants and/or children adequately must contribute to the cost of any One-Parent Family Payment, Lone Parent's Allowance, Deserted Wife's payment or Supplementary Welfare Allowance which, as a result, is paid to their families. These spouses /civil partners/cohabitants or the other parents are described in the legislation as 'liable relatives'. The "Liability to Maintain Family" provisions came into effect on 29 November 1990.

Information Leaflet
  • fact sheet LR15 describes the Liable Relatives scheme.

The provsions relating to Liability to Maintain Family are contained in

  • Part 12 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005, as amended.

The Maintenance Recovery Section, Social Welfare Services Office, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co Leitrim, Tel No (071) 9672599, is responsible for implementing the Liability to Maintain Family Provisions.

Part 2 : Investigation and Assessment Procedures


The functions of the Maintenance Recovery section are to:

  • determine on the basis of income information supplied, whether the liable relative is in a position to contribute to the Department,
  • determine the amount of contribution due by the liable relative,
  • monitor and enforce payment of the contributions due and
  • ensure the claimant transfers any maintenance payments not already assessed as means, on foot of a Maintenance or other Court Order, to the Department.
Assessment of Contribution

Regulations governing the assessment of the contribution to be made to the Department are contained in S.I. 571 of 2006 and S.I. 142 of 2007.

When a claim for One Parent Family Payment is being investigated, the Social Welfare Inspector asks the claimant for the identity of the liable relative. The liable relative is not normally interviewed at claim stage, but is informed of his/her potential liability by letter. After the claim is awarded and if it is deemed that the liable relative may be in a position to contribute, then he/she is contacted by the Department at that stage, and may be interviewed as above.

Information requested by the Department from a liable relative or his/her employer (which is required for the purposes of deciding the amount to be contributed) must be furnished to the Department within seven days of request.

Failure to co operate with requests from a Social Welfare Inspector or from the Maintenance Recovery Unit for information constitutes an offence under Social Welfare law which, on conviction, can lead to a fine or imprisonment.

The financial and new dependency situation of each liable relative is assessed in detail. The amount of income directly assessable against the liable relative is the net weekly income (i.e. income from all sources less deductions for income tax and PRSI) with the following deductions as applicable:

  • A "Personal Allowance" is granted in all cases in respect of personal needs. This is the equivalent of the maximum personal weekly rate of One-Parent Family Payment, Lone Parent's Allowance or Deserted Wife's payment, as appropriate, plus a sum of €19.05.
  • A "Child Dependant Allowance" may be granted in respect of each dependent child residing with the liable relative. To qualify as a dependant, a child must be under eighteen years, or between eighteen years and twenty two years and attending full time education. This allowance is the equivalent of the current Dependent Child Allowance paid with One-Parent Family Payment or Deserted Wife's benefit, as appropriate.
  • An allowance may be granted in respect of "Accommodation Costs", for rent or mortgage expenses incurred by the liable relative in his/her current accommodation up to a maximum of €95.20 per week or €413 per month. If, however, the liable relative is residing with a partner who is in employment, and is not in receipt of a Social Welfare payment, then only half of those expenses are allowable.
Capital Value of Property

The capital value of property is assessed on a weekly basis as follows:-

  • first €20,000.00) will be disregarded
  • Capital between €20,000.00 and €30,000.00 is assessed at €1.00 per €1,000.
  • Capital between €30,000.00 and €40,000.00) is assessed at €2.00 per €1,000.
  • Capital above €40,000 is assessed at €4.00 per €1,000.

When the allowances applicable to the particular circumstances have been deducted from the "Net Income", and the weekly capital value of property is assessed, the balance is deemed to be the Income Assessable for Contribution.

The weekly contribution due by the liable relative will be the lower of the following:-

  1. (a) The weekly rate of benefit/allowance in payment to the spouse/civil partner/cohabitant, less any maintenance payments made by the liable relative to the spouse/civil partner/cohabitant in compliance with a Court Order
  1. or
  1. (b) The amount of income assessable for contribution

An explanation of the assessment and allowances is furnished to each liable relative with a copy of the decision on the amount he/she is liable to contribute.

The liable relative can appeal to the Social Welfare Appeals Office within 21 days if he/she is not satisfied with the deciding officers decision.

Method of Payment

The Department seeks weekly payment wherever possible from liable relatives, and monies are paid by liable relatives directly to the Department's Accounts Branch Cashier or by standing order to the Department's bank account.

The liable relative has the option of paying the maintenance directly to the person receiving OFP (by cash, cheque or lodgement into their account in a financial institution) and notifying the Maintenance Recovery Section. This arrangement could lead to a reduction in rate of OFP.

The Health Service Executive is responsible for recovering contributions from the liable relative where a family is living on Supplementary Welfare Allowance.


The Department has powers under the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 2005, to take an action in the District Courts to seek enforced payment of contributions due, by way of Court Instalment Orders, or Attachment of Earnings Orders. Such actions would normally only be taken where the liable relative had failed to comply with the determination on contributions due. The liable relative would of course be made aware by the Department in advance that it intended to take court action against him/her, and he/she would have the normal right to be present and to have his/her case represented (at his/her own expense) at the District Court hearing.

Court Orders

The Department or a Health Service Executive is empowered to apply to the District Court for an order directing that contributions be paid. Such an order may be enforced by immediate instalment and the Department or Health Service Executive may apply to the District Court for an order directing the arrest and imprisonment of the person for non-compliance with an order.

Attachment of Earnings

The Department or the Health Service Executive may apply to the District Court to have an Attachment of Earnings Order made against a liable relative. The order is directed to the person who has the liable relative in his/her employment to make specified deductions from his/her earnings and to pay the amounts deducted to the District Court clerk for transmission to the Department or Health Service Executive.

Efforts Condition

Claimants of One-Parent Family payment are required to make "efforts" to obtain maintenance from their former spouse/civil partners/cohabitants or other parent of child(ren).

In separated/civil partner who is not living with the other civil partner of the civil partnership cases the claimant must initially make and continue to make appropriate efforts to obtain maintenance. In unmarried cases, claimants are advised at claim stage and after award of payment that they will be required to seek maintenance for the child(ren) from the other parent of the child(ren).

Maintenance Orders

Where a recipient of Deserted Wife's Benefit, Deserted Wife's Allowance, Lone Parent's Allowance or One-Parent Family Payment is receiving maintenance payments by way of a Family Law Court Order, (either a Family Law Maintenance Order or a Separation Agreement which has gone through the court and has a Maintenance clause in it) and those maintenance payments have not been assessed in deciding his/her rate of payment, then s/he is liable to transfer any payments received to the Minister for Employment Affairs and Employment Affairs and Social Protection, including any payments made in respect of children.

Under the legislation, where a One-Parent Family Payment recipient is required to transfer the maintenance payments to the Minister, the amount to be transferred shall be reduced by the housing costs actually incurred by the qualified parent, up to a maximum of €4,952.00 per annum.

Administrative practice ensures that recipients of Deserted Wife's Allowance or Benefit or Lone Parent's Allowance are similarly allowed retain the portion of the maintenance in respect of the mortgage or rent or the home improvement loan, for the term of the loan and up to a maximum of €95.20 per week or €4,952.00 per annum.

The payment of One-Parent Family Payment/Lone Parents Allowance/Deserted Wife's Benefit guarantees the person concerned a regular weekly income which he/she might not otherwise enjoy if solely dependent on maintenance payments.

The transfer of a maintenance order ensures this continuity of social welfare income and, at the same time, compliance with the "Liability to Maintain Family" provisions. Under the One-Parent Family Payment both personal and child maintenance are assessed as means; rent or mortgage repayments may be disregarded in assessing maintenance payments, up to a ceiling of €95.20 per week. The Department is required, under the legislation, to secure transfer of the maintenance order if payments under that order have not been assessed when deciding the claim.

Failure to comply with a request to transfer maintenance payments may result in reduction or termination of the One-Parent Family payment/Deserted Wife's Benefit/Lone Parents Allowance.

Last modified:17/01/2012

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