Child Support Debt Articles

Child Support: Answers to Your Commonly Asked Questions

Parents have an obligation to financially support their children, whether the parents are married or divorced. Children, likewise, have the right to be supported. Usually, when parents decide to separate, courts require the parent who does not have custody of the children to pay a monthly amount to the parent who has custody to help pay the child’s day to day expenses – called “child support” or “maintenance.” As a part of child support, a non-custodial parent may also be required by the court to pay health insurance, childcare expenses and education costs for the child. Many people are in debt and are having financial problems because they are not receiving child support payments. Being informed about the rules and regulations regarding child support can help.

How Much Child Support Is Right?

Most states have established guidelines for determining the amount of support that children are entitled to receive. The guidelines are a set of rules and tables for calculating the amount of child support a parent should pay. Usually, the amount to be paid depends on how much the non-custodial spouse earns each month, in relation to how many children are to be supported. Some parents can agree on the amount of child support, while others require the help of the court to set a support amount. Courts often have sample forms to help calculate the amount of child support a non-custodial parent will be required to pay.

Can the Child Support Amount Be Changed After the Court Gives an Order?

The person who wants to change the support amount usually needs to be able to show that circumstances have changed since the court order was entered. For example, suppose the non-custodial spouse held a full-time job at the time of the child support hearing and an amount of support was determined. Later, the person became a part-time worker due to company cutbacks. He or she may be able to request that the judge reduce the amount of child Support based upon changed circumstances.

Other possible circumstances that a judge may decide are significant include new medical expenses, disability of the non-custodial parent, educational expenses or a large increase in salary of either parent. The judge may also consider modifying a support order if the child begins to spend significantly more time with the non-custodial parent than when the court initially ordered the support.

Can I Prohibit the Non-Custodial Parent From Visiting My Child Because Child Support Has Not Been Properly Paid?

Child support and visitation are considered separate issues. Usually, even if the non-custodial parent has not met the child support obligation, the parent is still entitled to visit the child.

By the same token, a parent who is denied visitation must still pay child support. If you try to stop the non-custodial parent from visiting the child because he or she did not pay child support, you may be sued.

What If the Non-Custodial Parent Remarries? Can the New Spouse’s Income Be Considered Toward the Child Support Award?

Since the new spouse does not have an obligation to support the child, the additional income usually cannot be considered as available for child support.

However, it is possible that the court will assume that the non-custodial parent now pays less of his or her own expenses and that more of the non-custodial parent’s salary will be considered available for child support.

If the Non-Custodial Parent Begins a New Family and Has Other Children to Support, Will the Amount of Child Support Owed to the Original Child Be Reduced?

Starting a new family does not relieve a parent of the obligation to support the original child. The non-custodial parent may request that the support order be modified due to changed circumstances — the obligation to support additional children.

The judge will decide if the new circumstances warrant a reduction in child support, but will rarely relieve the person of the obligation to support the original child.

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What If the Non-Custodial Parent Declares Bankruptcy?

Child support payments are not dischargeable in bankruptcy. The parent who must pay child support is obligated to pay for the time agreed or stated in the order. The only exception may be where a modification of child support has been made.

If the Non-Custodial Parent Refuses to Pay Child Support as Ordered, Is It a Crime?

In most states, failure to support your child is a crime. Many states have court-ordered “round-ups” of parents who owe support. These parents may be jailed until the amount owed is paid.

Similarly, a parent who refuses to get a job or voluntarily impoverishes himself or herself may be given the choice of getting a job by a certain date or becoming incarcerated in some states.

What Can the State Do to Help if Child Support is Not Paid as Ordered by the Court?

Someone who refuses to pay court-ordered child support would be in contempt of court if he or she fails to pay. Many states have established a division of the State’s Attorney’s Office (sometimes called the Office of Child Support Enforcement) devoted exclusively to child support issues.

When someone does not pay as ordered by the court, the state may be able to attach the wages or bank account of the non-paying parent, intercept any tax refund that may be owed or place a lien on personal and real property belonging to that parent.

Money from these sources is often paid to the court who then distributes the money to the custodial parent. Usually, the custodial parent does not have to pay for these services. If there is not a court order, it will probably not be possible to obtain income from these sources, unless the non-custodial parent agrees to allow these resources to be used.

What Happens if I Know Who the Father of the Child is but He Denies it Because He Does Not Want to Pay Child Support?

Most states have approved the use of paternity tests to determine whether an individual is the parent of a particular child. The test involves taking a minimal blood sample from both the alleged parent and the child.

A paternity hearing is held to try to establish paternity. Aside from genetic testing, a court will usually consider other factors such as: resemblance of the alleged father and child, acknowledgement of paternity at the time of the birth by signing the child’s birth certificate, or voluntary support payments sent by the alleged father.

What If I Ended on Good Terms with the Non-Custodial Parent and Don’t Want to “Rock The Boat” by Asking for Child Support (or I Never Want to Have Anything to Do With That Jerk Again!)?

Since the payment is a result of the child’s right to be supported rather than the custodial parent’s right to receive the support, a custodial parent usually would not be able to waive a child’s right to support. Children have the right to be supported by both of their parents in all states.

Can the State Suspend the Driver’s License of a Parent Who Ignores a Court Order to Pay Child Support?

In many states, suspension of a driver’s license is allowed to enforce an order of child support. The person is often notified by mail that the license is about to be suspended. Sometimes the person is given a period of time, usually 30 days, to clear up the past amount owed before the license will actually be suspended.

What Should I Do If the Non-Custodial Parent Refuses to Pay Child Support?

You can contact the Child Support Enforcement agency in your state. Usually, the State’s Attorney’s Office will bring suit to enforce court-ordered support and the custodial parent does not pay for these services. Also, there are several nonprofit organizations designed to help custodial parents recover child support payments. Many private agencies have begun to offer child support recovery services as well, often charging an application fee. Usually these companies keep a percentage of what is collected on behalf of the custodial parent. Be sure you understand all charges and fees before signing up with the agency. You may want to contact the consumer protection agency in your state to find out if any complaints have been registered against a certain collection company.

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Can the Non-Custodial Parent Avoid Paying Court-Ordered Child Support by Moving Out of State?

The obligation to pay child support does not end because a parent moves out of state. The federal government, and each state, maintains a parent locator service. Parents who owe support may be found through use of federal, state and local records. Federal sources include the IRS and Social Security records. States can research records relating to motor vehicles, unemployment and public entitlements (for example, welfare). Local records may involve a review of tax or library records. Credit reports may be another useful source, since arrears of more than $1,000 will probably be reported to the credit reporting agency. It is generally not permissible to use census records to locate parents who owe child support. Some states require employers to report new employees to the state agency that tracks employment to locate those who owe child support.

Can the Non-Custodial Parent Be Publicly Humiliated Into Paying Court-Ordered Child Support?

Certainly, within reason. Often child support enforcement agencies will post the name of a person who has defaulted on child support payments on a “most wanted” list, which may be published and circulated or made into a poster and hung in a prominent place. Some states allow the name of the debtor to appear on cable television on hundreds of occasions or to take out a full-page advertisement in a local newspaper on a regular basis. A review of many Internet sites reveals stories accompanied by pictures of a parent who has failed to pay court-ordered child support. Often these stories include a picture of the child who is suffering due to the failure of the non-custodial parent to pay child support. It would be wise to consult an attorney before attempting the public humiliation tactic yourself.

When Does the Obligation to Pay Child Support End?

Usually a court order requiring a parent to pay child support will state the date upon which the obligation will cease. Likewise, any agreement entered into by both parents should include a termination date. If no date is specified, depending on what your state’s laws are, usually the obligation to pay child support continues until the child reaches the age of majority or, possibly, until the child finishes college. If the child is disabled, the obligation may continue until the child is able to become independent.

Remember that all children have a legal right to receive child support. Support obligations are usually enforced to the fullest extent of the law. Unfortunately, due to the number of non-custodial parents who fail to pay child support, child support enforcement agencies are overflowing with cases. Be persistent and do not let your case inadvertently “slip through the cracks.”

Receipt of the child support that your child is owed may make the difference between becoming hopelessly in debt and the ability to pay your bills. There are a multitude of resources available to help. Become familiar with your state’s laws regarding child support and the enforcement of court-ordered support. If you are not sure where to begin, start with your state’s consumer protection office for guidance.


About the author

Steve Rhode

Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.

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